Call us at 719.632.8491 | Open M-F 9-6, Sat 9-5, Sun 10-5

Native, Xeric & Edible Plants: The Three Pillars of Plants in our Nursery

Native, Xeric and Edible Plants: The Three Pillars of Plants in our Nursery

Hi there, this is Billy, the nursery manager here at Rick’s Garden Center. We have been very busy preparing to receive this spring’s plant material, and I wanted to take a moment to share our philosophies in plant choice. This is going to be an exciting year for us at the nursery; we’ve been working hard to acquire the toughest, most beautiful, and most unique plants for your garden. You can expect to see more varieties and a wider selection than ever before.

There are three main pillars holding up our plant palette in the nursery. We are highly interested in plants that are either native, xeric, or edible. I’d like to take a moment to explain these three categories, why they’re important, and how they can serve your landscape.

Native Plants

Native plants are most commonly described as a plant that existed in the geographical location prior to European colonization. This may seem pretty cut and dry, but the truth is there is a lot of gray area. There are an incredible amount of eco-regions throughout Colorado, many overlapping, and each with its own set of native plants. It is often debated whether or not cultivars–plants that are cultivated varieties, chosen and grown by people specifically for certain traits–should count as natives at all. Despite these hangups, at Rick’s nursery we believe that native plants can and should be an integral part of every Colorado landscape. Native plants are accustomed to our harsh climate and poor soils in ways that many “exotic” species are not. Native plants also benefit the local ecology in many ways that exotics don’t; since they co-evolved with the local animal population, you can be sure that your plants are serving not only your landscaping interests, but also the wilder Colorado denizens. Some of my favorite native plants are Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa), Fernbush (Chamaebatiaria millefolium), and Big Bluestem grass (Andropogon gerardii).

Xeric Plants

The word xeric, as in xeriscaping, is derived from the latin word meaning “dry.” These plants, while not necessarily native, are chosen to be as low-maintenance and drought tolerant as possible. Many of them love our nutrient poor, well-draining soils. They can put up with heat exceptionally well, making them good for those tough-to-grow spots in your yard. One common misconception is that “xeriscaping” means removing all the plants from your landscape and filling it with gravel–this method is derided as “zeroscaping” in the landscaping industry. Instead, a wide selection of plants coming together with different colors, textures, and shapes can create a lush, inviting space capable of expressing any number of landscaping styles, from English cottage garden to desert oasis. Some stand-out xeric plants are Dark Knight False Spirea (Caryopteris x clandonensis), Three Leaf Sumac (Rhus trilobata), and Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina).

Edible Plants

Edible plants need the least introduction, and are highly rewarding to grow. There are many types of edible plants that thrive in Colorado, including fruit trees, berry shrubs, and even a few perennial vegetables. Our nursery will carry many varieties of apples, peaches, plums, and cherries this Spring. As for shrubs, my personal favorite Serviceberry (Amelanchier) is a must; we also have many varieties of Raspberries (Rubus idaeus) that are excellent for growing in Colorado. We also have Currants (Ribes), Elderberries (Sambucus) and Grapes available, as well as some other less-known varieties like Seaberries (Hippophae rhamnoides) and Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum). Rhubarb and Asparagus are staple perennial vegetables, and exceptionally easy to grow. There is an edible plant for every space of your landscape.

And Others!

Of course, there are many plants that fit outside these categories that you’ll find at Rick’s nursery. Even though we’re dedicated to native, xeric, and edible plants, we’ll still have your old time favorites like Roses, Hydrangeas, and Hostas.

Thank you for reading! We hope to see you when our nursery reopens on April 15th. Happy planting!

Understanding Garden Fertilizers

The Basics

What is Fertilizer?
Fertilizer is best described as plant food. It provides a plant with all the necessary micro and macro-nutrients it needs to grow. Like us, a plant without food will be able to survive for a while, but it will eventually require sustenance to thrive. It should be noted that compost and soil are different from fertilizers and your plants will not get enough nutrients from soil and compost alone.

Do I even need fertilizer?
The answer – if you live and grow in Colorado – is a resounding “Yes!” The soil in Colorado is naturally very nutrient-poor, and these nutrients are essential for healthy, vibrant gardens. Even if you are planting in a raised bed or container garden, fertilizer is necessary for successful gardening.

When should I fertilize?
Fertilizing should be done on a consistent basis while a plant is out of dormancy (whenever it is actively growing). Depending on the type of fertilizer you choose, you can feed your plants anywhere between every watering or two to three times throughout the growing season. It is very important to read and follow the directions and dosages on your fertilizer carefully.

Understanding Your Options

What are the numbers?
Every fertilizer is required to display three numbers. These numbers are called the NPK – (N) for nitrogen, (P) for phosphorus, and (K) for potassium. These numbers represent the guaranteed amount of each macronutrient present in the fertilizer. For example, a fertilizer labelled “4-6-2” has 4% nitrogen, 6% phosphorus, and 2% potassium.

What do these nutrients do?
Luckily, there is an easy way to remember the purpose each of these macronutrients serve: Up – Down – All-around.
Up – Nitrogen will encourage lush, leafy growth above ground
Down – Phosphorus helps with strong root establishment and blooms
All-Around – Potassium supports the plant’s overall health and resistance to pests and disease.

Organic or synthetic?
There are pros and cons to both organic and synthetic products. Understanding them can help you decide what is best for your garden and gardening habits. Both organic and synthetic fertilizers will provide your plants with the same types of nutrients, and will not make a difference in the chemical make-up of the finished product.

Making the Decision

What is the right choice for my garden?
First, you must ask yourself what you want out of your garden – are you hoping for vibrant colors and large blooms from your annuals and perennials? Lush, dark green coverage from your foliage? Enough home-grown veggies to fill the fridge and give out to the neighbors? Once you decide your goal, picking a fertilizer is easy.

For foliage and leafy veggies, choose a fertilizer with a high nitrogen number (the first number of your NPK). Nitrogen encourages a plant to produce a lot of leaves. This will help give your annual and perennial beds a full, healthy look and will allow your lettuce, kale, and herbs to produce the most leaves possible.

For flowers, flowering vegetables, and root vegetables, you should ensure a high amount of phosphorus (the second number in your NPK). This will help the plant establish a healthy, extensive root system and will encourage the biggest, brightest, and most blooms possible.

*For tomatoes, you want a high phosphorus number to encourage bloom count, but you also want to ensure your tomatoes get enough calcium. Providing your tomatoes with extra calcium during planting and throughout the growing season will protect them from blossom-end rot (a disorder caused by a calcium deficiency in the plant).

*Please note, adding eggshells to your soil will not aid in avoiding blossom-end rot as the calcium in eggshells takes upwards of six years to break down and become “digestible” to the plant. Many fertilizers labelled specifically for tomatoes will have added calcium that is immediately available to your plants.

Caring for Evergreen Wreaths & Garland

Use these three tricks to keeping evergreen wreaths and garlands looking fresh.

Fully hydrate the greenery prior to displaying it

Water is primarily absorbed through the cut ends of the branches. It has likely been a few days since your greenery had a good drink of water, so fully hydrate your wreath or garland for a few hours or even overnight before you display it. This can be accomplished by putting an inch or two of water in a bathtub (or other container) and laying the greenery flat in it. If available, laying the wreath in snow overnight will work just as well.

Prevent moisture loss by choosing an ideal location

Fresh cut greenery does best in cool, shady locations. Outside is ideal! Whether displayed outside or inside, exposure to direct sun will shorten the lifespan. If you choose to display your wreath or garland indoors, choose a spot away from sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, etc.) as these will quickly dry out the greenery.

Keep your greenery hydrated

Mist the back of your greenery with water daily in our dry Colorado climate. This will help the cut ends of the greenery to absorb moisture. Greenery displayed indoors will benefit from a nearby humidifier. Anti-transpirant sprays such as Bonide c or Wilt-Pruf® can also be applied to greenery to reduce transpiration of moisture.

The lifespan of your greenery will be dictated by how much moisture it loses and how much it is able to absorb. The more hydrated your greenery is, the fresher it will look and the longer it will last.

Bonide Wilt Stop®: https://www.ricksgarden.com/product/bonide-wilt-stop-rtu-40fl-oz/

Wilt-Pruf®: https://www.ricksgarden.com/product/15035/

Caring for a Real Christmas Tree

Fresh Christmas trees require a little more care than fake ones, but their beauty and lowered environmental impact are worth it!

Choosing the Best Spot

Just as with cut flowers in a vase, the trick to keeping real trees looking good is to keep them from drying out. Trees should be kept away from major sources of heat (fireplaces, heaters, heat vents, direct sunlight) as these will dry out your tree faster. Cooler room temperatures will also help to slow down moisture loss.

Measuring the Spot

Avoid a Clark Griswold moment – know the size of your space and be sure to choose a tree that will fit. When viewing trees outside against a big open space, they often seem smaller. Some trees are narrow, while others can be quite wide, so consider both height and width when measuring.

Choosing the Best Tree Stand

Think of your tree stand as a vase for flowers. It needs to hold the tree upright and hold ample amounts of water. Here are a few factors to consider:

  1. Size – Trees can vary in size from 3’ tall to over 12’ tall, so choose a tree stand that is appropriate for the size of tree you intend to put in it. Shaving off the sides of the trunk to fit in a stand that is too small will decrease the tree’s ability to take up water.
  2. Stability – Taller trees need more stability and thus stronger legs that extend out further.
  3. Water Capacity – Be sure the stand can hold enough water, at least 1 quart of water for every inch of trunk diameter. The water will need to be checked daily (twice daily the first few days) so choose a stand that is accessible.

Pro Tip: Slip a biodegradable plastic tree bag over the trunk before attaching the tree stand. Spread the bag out under the tree skirt. When the holidays are done, you can pull the bag up over the tree and easily carry it outside without scattering needles throughout the house.

Planning for Decorations

Consider your style before choosing a tree. Some varieties of trees are dense and bushy, so only the outer tips of the branches can be decorated. Other varieties have a more open form, allowing the inner branches to be decorated as well. If you plan to put heavy ornaments on your tree, be sure to choose a tree variety known for having strong branches. Lights that produce heat can also dry out a tree faster, so opt for cooler lights whenever possible.

Not sure which variety is best for you? Check out our blog post on choosing a tree variety.

Recutting the Trunk

To help your tree take up water, all trees should be given a fresh cut (½” removed from the trunk)  and then put in water as quickly as possible (the quicker the better, but some species can go as long as 6 to 8 hours and still take up water). Once the tree is given a fresh cut, it is important to not bruise the cut or get the cut dirty as this will plug the cells and prevent the uptake of water.

Here at Rick’s we will give each tree a fresh cut before the tree leaves the lot. We can even put your tree stand on your tree for you so that when you get home, all you need to do is add water!

If you will not be able to set up your tree right away, store it in a cool location out of the wind in a bucket that is kept full of water.

Caring for Your Tree

Trees can take up a surprising amount of water – sometimes more than a gallon a day in the first few days. It is important to keep filling the tree stand with water. If the tree runs out of water, the cut will dry out, resin will block the pores, and the tree will lose the ability to take up water. Check the water twice a day the first week, and then daily after that.

Safety

Choose lights that are cool to the touch (modern LED lighting is an excellent choice). Inspect lights prior to putting them on the tree and replace them if they are worn out. Check the label on your set of lights to find out how many strands can be connected and do not overload electrical circuits. Keep the tree away from heat sources including candles and fireplaces. Turn off the Christmas tree lights every night before bed. When the tree dries out, it is time to dispose of it.

Tree Disposal

Christmas trees can be recycled at facilities that process them into mulch. More information on the mulching program in Colorado Springs can be found online at TreeCycleCOS.org

Related Products

Pursell Tree Preservative – Liquid: https://www.ricksgarden.com/product/pursell-christmas-tree-preservative-8oz/

Pursell Tree Preservative – Granular: https://www.ricksgarden.com/product/pursell-christmas-tree-preservative-granular-0-5oz/

Tree Disposal Bag: https://www.ricksgarden.com/product/pursell-christmas-tree-disposal-bag/

Bonide Wilt Stop®: https://www.ricksgarden.com/product/bonide-wilt-stop-rtu-40fl-oz/

Wilt-Pruf®: https://www.ricksgarden.com/product/15035/

Resources

https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/fnr/fnr-423-w.pdf

https://realchristmastrees.org/all-about-trees/care-tips/

https://www.christmastreeassociation.org/fire-safety-tips-for-your-christmas-tree/

Choosing a Christmas Tree Variety

Questions to Consider

Do you want a fuller tree (one with dense branches) or a more open tree (one with more spacious branches)?
If you like the look of a bushy tree, choose a fuller type. If you like to decorate the interior of the tree, use larger ornaments, or be able to see through the tree, then choose a more open tree type.

Do you tend to decorate with heavy ornaments?
If you use heavy ornaments, be sure to choose a tree variety with strong branches.

Does scent matter to you?
Some varieties are very fragrant while others only have a light scent.

How long do you plan to display your tree for?
If you plan to display your tree for several weeks, be sure you choose a variety with good needle retention. Ensuring that trees are placed in cooler locations, far from heating vents (which dry trees out) will also help with needle retention. Checking on the water levels of the tree daily and watering as needed is also critical. If the tree runs out of water, the cut will dry out, resin will block the pores, and the tree will lose the ability to take up water. Additional products such as tree preservatives and Wilt Pruf or Wilt Stop can help extend the life of the tree.

How much do you want to spend?
At Rick’s, we only carry premium quality Christmas trees. Our tree prices are based on two main factors – size and the cost of producing that tree variety. Larger trees are more expensive as are varieties of trees that are slower growing (and therefore take longer to produce).

Overall Attributes

There are three main types of evergreen trees sold as Christmas trees – firs, spruce, and pines.

Firs

Soft needles, fragrant, strong branches

Spruces

Spiky needles (good for repelling cats), very strong branches, fuller/wider

Pines

Long soft needles, unique elegant shape, less dense (more open) branches

Christmas Tree Accolades

Longest Lasting
Fraser Fir & White Fir
Honorable Mentions: Scotch Pine, Balsam fir, White Pine

Best at Repelling Pets
Blue Spruce

Most Traditional Christmas Tree Look
Noble Fir
Honorable Mention: Scotch Pine

Strongest Ornament Holder
Blue Spruce
Honorable Mentions: Balsam Fir, Fraser Fir, Noble Fir

Longest Needles
White Pine & Scotch Pine

Strongest Scent
Balsam Fir (strong) & Fraser Fir (pleasant)

Christmas Tree Variety Details

Balsam Fir

Balsam firs have fragrant, dark green foliage and are known for their strong branches and soft needles. Balsam firs have excellent needle retention and retain their pleasing scent throughout the holiday season.

Foliage Color: Dark Green
Needle Type: Soft
Needle Retention: Excellent
Branches: Strong and point straight out from the trunk
Overall Shape: Not too narrow, not to wide, right in the middle
Scent: Fragrant “Christmas tree” scent, retains scent throughout the holiday season

Fraser Fir

Fraser firs have dark green needles with a frosty glow and pleasing fragrance. They are beautifully shaped with strong, slightly upturned branches and excellent needle retention. Fraser firs are considered one of the most desirable Christmas trees in North America.

Foliage Color: Dark Green, frosty underlying glow
Needle Type: Soft and upright
Needle Retention: Excellent, very long lasting
Branches: Strong and point slightly upward, can be dense
Overall Shape: Fuller than a Balsam, but not as full as a Noble or Nordman
Scent: Pleasant scent, retains scent throughout the holiday season

Noble Fir

Known as “America’s Christmas tree,” the Noble fir is one of the loveliest Christmas trees we carry. These slow growers have beautiful dark green foliage with bushy branches that are strong and straight.


Foliage Color: Dark Green
Needle Type: Soft
Needle Retention: Good
Branches: Strong, point straight out from the trunk, good spacing between branches
Overall Shape: Very full
Scent: Light fragrance

Nordman Fir

The Nordman fir is a very full, wide tree and has the softest needles of any tree we carry. It has a low fragrance level and beautiful symmetry.

Foliage Color: Dark Green, frosty underlying glow
Needle Type: Softest of them all
Needle Retention: Good
Branches: Good strength for average ornaments
Overall Shape: Very full, heavy trees, nice cone shape
Scent: Light fragrance

White Fir

Our white firs are sourced from forest thinning efforts in New Mexico, making them an environmentally conscious choice. Because they are not farmed, these trees have a more rustic, natural shape with beautiful soft, light-green foliage.


Foliage Color: Light green
Needle Type: Long and soft
Needle Retention: Excellent
Branches: Strong, open spacing
Overall Shape: These trees are harvested, not farmed, and have a more natural shape
Scent: Fragrant

Colorado Blue Spruce

Blue spruces are known for their striking foliage that can be bluish green to silvery blue. A slow grower, the blue spruce has stiff, strong branches and a desirable pyramidal shape. The needles are spiky and may repel cats who are prone to tree climbing.


Foliage Color: Blue-green to powdery silver
Needle Type: Spiky, may repel pets
Needle Retention: Needles may drop in a warm environment
Branches: Stiff and strong
Overall Shape: Very full and wide
Scent: Stronger scent

Scotch Pine

Scotch pines are a traditional favorite due to their economical price and incomparable needle retention. The branches are strong with bright green, medium length needles that will not drop even if the tree becomes dry, making it an excellent choice for warmer homes.

Foliage Color: Dark green
Needles: Stiff, one inch long
Needle Retention: Excellent (incomparable!) Needles will stay on even when dry
Branches: Stiff
Overall Shape: Open appearance with more room for ornaments
Scent: Fragrant, maintains scent throughout the season
Notes: Easier to grow, very economical

White Pine

White pine Christmas trees have long, soft, bluish-green needles and excellent needle retention. This tree is known for its elegant, symmetrical shape.

Foliage Color: Bluish-green
Needles: Long and soft, very elegant
Needle Retention: Excellent
Branches: Wispy branches with open space between them, does best with lighter ornaments
Overall Shape: Open appearance with more room for ornaments
Scent: Very little aroma

Resources

https://web.extension.illinois.edu/trees/types.cfm

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/choosing_the_right_christmas_tree

Fern Care Guide

Light

Most fern varieties naturally grow on the floor of thick, forested areas so they prefer a bright but indirect light. Given the delicate nature of their leaves, they can easily burn if put in direct sunlight.

Temperature

Ferns should be kept in a temperate environment – they prefer daytime temps between 65-75 degrees, and can have nighttime temps no more than 10 degrees lower (55-65). If the temperature is often above 75 degrees, they will be okay but may require more frequent watering. If temperatures fall below 50 degrees, they risk being cold-shocked which is rarely survivable.

Humidity

This is the trickiest aspect of keeping a fern in Colorado. They require a humid environment in order to keep their foliage from crisping up and falling off. A fern should be kept in humidity levels that are consistently above 60%. There are a few ways to accomplish this:

  • Keep your fern in a closed terrarium – This is the easiest way to ensure your fern has optimal temperature and humidity levels.
  • Give your fern a humidity tray to sit on – By filling a saucer with washed gravel and a very small amount of water and then setting your potted fern on top, you can create a temporarily humid environment immediately around your fern. When using this method, ensure that the soil is not touching the water through your pot’s drainage hole. The water will have to be refilled about every other day.
  • Give your fern a humidifier – A humidifier is a great choice for people who have many plants that prefer a more humid environment than Colorado has to offer. There is a great variety to choose from – small, single-plant serving models, to ones that can raise the humidity of a large room.

Watering

Ferns prefer to stay in moist soil. It is important to maintain a good medium between letting the soil dry out and keeping it wet. The best way to tell if your fern needs to be watered is by sticking your finger into the top layer – if the top 1 1/2 inches are dry, then you should water. As with most houseplants, it is much safer to err on the side of underwatering than overwatering.

Fertilizer

Ferns are very light feeders, so they do not need to be fertilized often. For the best results, feed your fern a balanced houseplant fertilizer once every month starting mid-spring through the summer. It is best to not feed your fern during the fall and winter, as they are most sensitive to over-feeding at this time.

Tree and Shrub Planting Guide

Image of trees at Rick's Garden Center

Tree & Shrub Planting Guide

Call before you dig! Dial 811

1. Measure the depth of the root ball. Your planting hole should be approximately one inch less in depth than the root ball itself (Example: 14” root ball should be planted in a 13” deep hole). Lay your rake or shovel handle across the hole, the root ball should be just slightly higher than the handle. The tree should sit on undisturbed, firm, soil. You need a firm foundation so the tree doesn’t settle after it is planted.

2. Dig a large saucer shaped hole approximately 3 times the diameter of the root ball (Example: the root ball is 16” across, the diameter of the hole should be 48”). The saucer shaped sides of the planting hole help the new root growth to move outward and upward, away from the trunk or crown. This helps prevent the new roots from girdling the trunk and maintains proper oxygen and nutrient flow to the root system.

3. Gently remove container, for large trees or shrubs, it may be easier to cut the container off. DO NOT pick up the tree or shrub by its trunk and attempt to “shake” off the container.

4. Check the root ball for roots that are growing in a circular pattern. If the roots are “Pot Bound” it is recommended to shave off an inch to an inch and a half of the exterior of the root ball. Use a hand saw to slice off strips from the exterior of the root ball around the perimeter. Prune any remaining circling roots. This has been found to be more effective than vertical slices through the root ball and prevents root girdling of the tree. Do this in several sections around the root ball. This will stimulate the roots to begin growing out of their circulating pattern.

5. Dust the root ball and cut root ends with a mycorrhizae inoculant, such as Mykes, Soil Moist or other product, so that there is good contact with the root system per the product directions. If possible, dampen the root ball to help adhere the dust to the root ball.

6. Place the tree in the hole and backfill with the original soil, remove any large dirt clumps or rocks. Water in the soil to settle it down, do not tamp down. Continue backfilling up to the top of the root ball. If you have any excess soil, use it to build a raised berm around the outside of the hole. This will aid in proper watering. NOTE: If you have heavy clay soil, consult our Nursery Manager. It is NOT recommended to try and adapt trees to soil they cannot tolerate.

7. Mix the Ferti-lome Root Stimulator or Bonide Root & Grow according to the directions on the label. Water the tree or shrub thoroughly with the mixture throughout the first two growing seasons.

8. Add mulch to the planting area, keeping the mulch 4-6 inches from the trunk of the tree or crown of the shrub. This will help retain moisture, moderate the soil temperature and prevent mower/trimmer damage, ensuring a good consistent growing area for your new plant. It looks great too!

9. Large, tall trees will require staking and guying. This will prevent any wind damage that could topple or shift your tree causing severe root damage. Tree straps should be loose to allow the tree to move a little in the wind. Remove tree straps after one year.

Image showing how to plant a tree

RECOMMENDED:
TREE WRAP We highly recommend using tree wrap on any smooth barked /and/ or dark colored tree trunks. Winter sun can cause frost cracking in young trees, especially trees with southwest exposures. Wrapping should be applied around Thanksgiving and removed by April Fools Day or Easter.

TRUNK BARK PROTECTORS The only trees that may not need Deer Guards are those planted behind a 6’ fence that the deer can’t see through; or have thick rough bark! It is never worth risking the damage that deer WILL do! This can also protect against mechanical damage from mowers.

WATERING:
Newly planted trees will need 5-10 gallons of water a week for the first two years until they are established. It is better to water more deeply and infrequently than lightly and frequently. If the soil is still wet a couple of inches down around the root ball, avoid watering.

Don’t forget to Winter Water!! Trees still lose moisture during the dormant period. If there has been no measurable precipitation for over a week and temperatures are above freezing, water lightly once a week, 2-3 gallons. This goes a long way to preventing winter dye-back and root damage!


X