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Teton Valley News - Lawn & Garden Guide - April 22, 2010 - Page C1

Teton Valley News

Challenges of high mountain gardening Kate Reynolds Yaskot TVN Contributing Writer


Gardening in Teton Valley, while very challenging, is not impossible. Newcomers will quickly discover that this is not the place where you just plant your favorite flowers or vegetables in the spring (because there really is no spring), give them adequate water and then expect to reap your harvest in the fall. At an elevation of 6,200 feet, it can snow and frost in any month of the year. There is no “growing season” like in other parts of the country. The soil is poor, can have a high clay content, is generally alkaline and in some parts of the valley, is very rocky. While extreme heat and cold would seem to be obvious challenges (they are), it’s actually the wind that can be critical to the survival of flowers and vegetables because it saps moisture from the plants. And probably what’s most critical is understanding your physical location in the Valley, because you will have different growing factors if you live along the river as opposed to being at the mouth of a canyon. While most of the valley is United States Department of Agriculture Zone 3 with respect to plant hardiness, along the river it’s Zone 2 and about 10 degrees colder. While these challenges are formidable, especially for newcomers, they are not impossible. The key to gardening here is to understand the challenges before you plant and then incorporate a variety of techniques in your gardening regime that deal with these factors. Large shrubs make a good wind barrier and can create microclimates to shield plants from wind. Numerous soil amendments can enhance soil quality, certain techniques such as using raised beds with plant covers can help extend your growing season.

Tricks of the trade Johanna Marcell-Miller grew up in a family of passionate gardeners and knows firsthand what gardening at this elevation can mean to a serious See Gardening challenges C4

Page C2 - April 22, 2010 - Lawn & Garden Guide - Teton Valley News

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Teton Valley News - Lawn & Garden Guide - April 22, 2010 - Page C3

Drawing your blueprint for beauty Tips and trends for the Valley Shannon Hoffmann TVN Staff

disturbed or developed area and making it look natural as the design is integrated so it doesn’t look contrived.


Staying with deciduous trees, shrubs and perennials is part he Teton Valley is known for gorgeous scenery, but of creating a natural looking landscape. Aspens, maples there are many things you can do to enhance that native to the area, spruce, pine, fir and evergreens are beauty starting with your own personal landscape. probably used more in this area for the base. The palate It may be that you have somewhat of an idea of what you is a little broader with the natural would like to see in your landscape perennials and grasses used to add but don’t quite know how to Need a landscaper? that artistic flavor that completes achieve that look. Brannon Bleggi the idea of the “perfect” landscape Check out of VLA, Inc. shared a few tips and blueprint. local trends for landscaping. “In that last few years we are seeing more water features, from things to do with habitat on a micro scale to larger estate improvements for wildlife habitats — and being as green as possible,” said Bleggi. He also notes that water management is a huge concern, and so property owners are utilizing more features that have to do with irrigation and collecting water to harvest it. This is where the ponds come in, and people seem to also be using more native plant material including meadow grasses and draught-tolerant shrubs and trees to help conserve water.

So what is the easiest way to draw your own blueprint for beauty? Probably the easiest way would be to contact a landscape architect and ask some questions and get help with your master plan to implement your ideas. It is also suggested that you do some homework. There are many books available as well as Web sites on the Internet that share information on green building for sustainable landscapes. There are also more articles these days in gardening magazines about natural native habitat landscapes and sustainability.

One of the biggest challenges landscape architects, as well as the do-it-yourself landscaper, encounter is taking a

What are other key elements of your site to consider? It is suggested that you get to know your site well including which areas drain well or don’t, which areas have good sun exposure or are shady, as well as which views you would like to enhance or possibly eliminate. Start simple on paper, develop your plan, and know that your plan may evolve from there. If you are having trouble deciding on these issues, consult with professionals to get the answers. What about the economics of having more mature trees and plants in your landscape? It is noted that you can pay less for the smaller versions, but due to the shorter growing season in this area it would be a good idea to opt for the more mature trees and plants. You might pay a little more upfront, but at the same time they have more of a chance to establish root and your maintenance goes down rather quickly as they mature. So you can save in the long run, especially if you don’t have as much risk of having to replant the next year if a plant isn’t able to establish roots and endure the winter months. You can make your landscaping as inexpensive or expensive ad you like, and a landscape architect can help you develop your budget and design—as well as suggest sources for the most cost effective trees, shrubs and plants. Another source for answers to landscaping and gardening questions is the University of Idaho Extension Office. The Master Gardener program through the university is also a good way to learn more. Information can be found at

Page C4 - April 22, 2010 - Lawn & Garden Guide - Teton Valley News

Teton Valley News - Lawn & Garden Guide - April 22, 2010 - Page C5

Gardening challenges Continued from c1

“I wanted to share what I learned about growing in the Valley with others,” she said, and the column was a perfect medium to address the rigors associated with mountain gardening. Marcell also has a passion for cooking and shared her favorite recipes in her articles. She purchased a Sunshine, cedar-framed greenhouse about three years ago which allows her plants to get an early start. She’s a member of Seed Savers Exchange and grows her plants from heirloom seeds, which are seeds that have a history of being passed down within a family. She found that plants from hybrid seeds are not as hardy as heirloom. Growing her “plant starts” ultimately became a business for her about three years ago, when she created Green Ideas. She now sells flower, vegetable and herb starts. She said she plants her gardens in 10-inch raised beds, which have been effective as the soil in her yard in Victor is quite rocky. She covers her beds with a special gardening cloth over arched PVC pipes for the entire season. “The cloth allows sunlight in and keeps the soil moister,” she explained. This practice extends her growing season to about mid-October, she said. She grows a variety of herbs such as basil, thyme, sage, tarragon and chives. She also grows numerous vegetables such as broccoli, beans, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, tomatillos and a variety of flowers. “Last season we had fresh tomatoes through December,” she said. Her trick? Marcell explained at the end of the season, she wraps the green tomatoes in newspaper and stores them in a cool room, they gradually ripen and contain the same fresh taste and flavor as her garden-picked tomatoes. Marcell said her grandmother and her parents taught her about the importance of maximizing every inch of your gardening space. “Even though my mother has a small space for her garden in town, back in Vermont, it is amazing what her garden yields in produce and flow-

Microclimates In other parts of the Valley, however, gardeners face a different set of challenges and in some cases certain benefits, which not all gardeners here enjoy. Judy Allen, a gardener, educator and freelance writer, specifically purchased her property because of its location at the mouth of Darby Canyon. “The air flow coming through the canyon mixes up the layers of warm air and cold air” so it’s milder and beneficial to gardening. Allen said she’s been involved in all phases of organic gardening since the movement began in the 1980s, and she worked at one of the first organic farms in California. She lived and gardened south of Jackson for 16 years, which she described as a “more extreme season,” and moved to the Valley 11 years ago. Allen said she has taught a variety of classes on high altitude and organic gardening for years, including therapeutic programs at Red Top Meadows in Jackson. Allen said one of the most important and key elements in understanding gardening here is to know what microclimate you are located in the Valley, which will show you the potentials and limitations of what you can plant. In selecting what vegetables to plant, Allen said “there are generally two categories, those that are frost sensitive and those that are frost tolerant.” Frost tolerant vegetables such as peas actually grow quite well here, she said, with some being able to tolerate an inch or two of snow, which she described as “time released water.” In contrast, she said, are frost sensitive plants which need protection, like a row cover or a cold frame. Although the microclimate your garden is located in will determine what you can and can’t grow,

TVN File photo

Photo courtesy of Johanna Marcell-Miller

Clockwise from upper left:

there are additional factors that can be surprising beneficial.

Judy Allen works the dirt in one of her garden beds at Darby Canyon Gardens. Allen says understanding microclimates are key to gardening success in Teton Valley.

“One of my students coined the phrase of ‘nanoclimates’ of areas around and close to a house that can be like a banana belt,” she said. The area around her house along the south-facing wall “really cooks” and she is able to actually grow grapes.

Newly planted garden.

Allen said that there is no “growing season” here as in other parts of the country, and she instructs gardeners to look for plants and seeds that have shorter days to maturity. She said she just finished teaching a five-week intensive class on high altitude gardening and also offers classes on growing herbs. She has also taught classes through the community college in Jackson.

Flowers blooming in the greenhouse. Greenhouse from outside with shade cover.

Allen said while there may be a few rules with respect to successful gardening in the mountains, “I can’t give a ‘recipe’ to growing as there are too many variables.” She said gardening in the mountains is more about having an awareness of the conditions and challenges that gardening here poses, rather than a how-to prescription. Allen said a lot of newcomers to the valley get discouraged at the growing challenges and in many situations, it was a case of trying to grow the wrong plant. In addition to the classes she offers, a few years ago she created Darby Canyon Gardens, and has 18, 50 square-foot garden beds that she rents to gardeners for $30 a season on her property. Gardeners get the benefit and advantage of growing in a great microclimate, and the soil is well amended and nutritionally rich. This season half of the beds are already

Photo courtesy of Johanna Marcell-Miller

Photo courtesy of Johanna Marcell-Miller

reserved. Interested gardeners can contact her at (208) 354-3199. Allen said vegetables need a “chocolate cake soil,” which is very rich and teaches gardeners that they’re asking a lot of the soil to grow a huge amount of food in a very short time, and to remember that “you’re growing soil as much as you’re growing vegetables.”

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Although high-mountain gardening in the Valley can involve formidable conditions and factors, gardeners such as Marcell and Allen demonstrate how these challenges can be successfully surmounted.

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She said one of the keys to successful gardening in the mountains is for gardeners to learn to rely on their own instincts and become “experts” of the conditions and challenges of their own sites. “Gardening is always an experiment each year and there’s never a controlled set of conditions,” she explained, and there should always be an element of adventure.

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ers,” she said. Marcell said she practices “companion gardening,” where plants that are compatible with each other are planted next to each other. Smaller plants are placed under larger plants that can provide shade and protection, for example. Marcell said that her combination of using her greenhouse, season extender techniques, maximizing her plants within her space and planting covered, raised beds have enabled her to successfully garden under challenges faced by gardeners in Victor. Marcel may be contacted at (208) 787-9894.


gardener. A transplant from Vermont, Marcell moved to the valley in 1992, engaged in what she describes as “homeowner gardening” until 2005, when she realized she wanted to take her gardening practices to a more serious level. She completed the Master Gardener series of classes and then fulfilled her required 30 hours of community service by writing a series of columns, the “Gardener’s Corner” for the TVN.

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Page C6 - April 22, 2010 - Lawn & Garden Guide - Teton Valley News

Creating an outdoor living room (ARA) - For leisurely entertaining this summer, take full advantage of the great outdoors and extend your living space by creating an outdoor room. Why not have an outdoor living room with comfortable seating for all or your friends, or a space where you could fire up the grill and dine out under the stars? Adding a level, low maintenance surface, like a patio, will give you not only the pleasure of living in your outdoor space, but of loving it too. Photo courtesy of ARA Content

Here are some easy design tips: ` Find sturdy, comfortable seating that will withstand the elements for years to come. Try wrought iron, wood, or even resin (often made from post-consumer bottle waste such as milk containers) for low-maintenance options. These are readily available in your local garden or specialty stores. ` Seating is even more comfortable with the quick addition of colorful cushions and throw pillows. Swap these out for a change of scenery and store pillows in a clean, dry space (like a garage or storage bench) when not in use to extend their lives. ` Plant flowers, herbs, and vegetables in containers to add a pop of color to your outdoor living spaces. Keep these lush and lively all summer by planting seedlings in a good quality potting mix like MiracleGro Potting Mix with Moisture Control. ` Keep unwanted grass and weeds from popping up between the pavers by using Ortho

GroundClear. This weed control can be used early in the season between the pavers to kill the weeds you see popping up, and will keep new weeds from growing for up to one year. What a great way to spend less time working and more time enjoying your yard! ` Use an edger to trim the grass around the walkways and the edge of your patio for a more finished appearance.

Pavers come in many different shapes, sizes and colors, offering you ways to customize your ideas to match your house and landscaping. Once you have your patio or walkways installed, you can make your backyard inviting and appealing all summer long. With the addition of patios or paths and a trimmed, designer look in your backyard, you’ll be able to enjoy spending time in your outdoor living space, and not have to worry about a lot of maintenance to keep it looking beautiful. Start living in the outdoors and loving it.

` String some twinkle lights for a festive party atmosphere and use inexpensive, solar powered yard lights to illuminate your outdoor spaces. These usually require little or no installation; just stake in the ground along paths or in pots for added interest.

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A great way to create this space is by installing pavers, bricks, or stone to create beautiful patios and paths. Whether you do it yourself or hire a professional, it can be as easy as installing a winding path to connect your home to your garden or creating a space for a cozy bench to watch the birds splashing in the bird bath.

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Teton Valley News - Lawn & Garden Guide - April 22, 2010 - Page C7

It’s not always easy being green At least for your lawn Shannon Hoffmann TVN Contributing writer


ermit the Frog would tell you it’s not easy being green, but should your lawn talk— hopefully it doesn’t—it might say the same thing. One good thing about snow is that is always makes your lawn look pretty much the same as your neighbor’s. There doesn’t seem to be a competition for how much snow you can pile in your yard, but people are usually a bit more worried about how green their yard is after the snow has gone. Some lawns seem to emerge like lush green carpet from winter, but most don’t.


2. 3. 4.

He let it grow longer (raised the mower but still mowed once a week), and didn’t use a bag to remove the clippings. It is an age old argument as to whether or not clippings should be removed.

The short clippings actually filter down through the blades and decompose, providing nutrition — namely nitrogen — and can alleviate the need for one fertilizer application per year. The regular removal of clippings can result in the need Green Tips for additional fertilizer to compensate for Let it grow—shorter grass requires the loss of nutrient. The most water Master Gardener’s program of University Leave your trimmings of Idaho Extension Office suggests that Water in the morning you remove the Know long clippings so the your soil turf beneath is not suffocated, but use the short clippings.

Your lawn serves many functions— some possibly taken for granted including being that beautiful part of the scenery that eventually draws your eye to the flowers and other landscaping elements that adorn your home. Now that we’re approaching May, the snow is fading, begging the question of how you help your lawn to green early in the spring and stay healthy through the year and still conserve water. It is difficult to suggest a uniform formula for lawn maintenance, but one tip to remember is that if you are cutting your grass terribly short, it will need more water to sustain it. You might raise the mower and let it grow a little longer—that should help it to require less water to keep it green. Living next door to someone who kept his lawn perfectly manicured, as thick as carpet, and a magnificent dark green, I finally had to ask his secrets.

When is the best time to water?

Night watering can be more efficient because it decreases evaporation, but you can end up with fungus problems because the humidity and moisture levels are increased and remain there through the night. Morning watering is a better option because the plants can then dry off before evening, but evaporation is still decreased. Daytime watering is the least efficient and not encouraged, especially on hot or windy days. How often you water depends on your soil and climate as well. Clay soil holds water better longer than sandy soils. Clay soil can hold a deep watering up to a week, but sandy soils need to be watered two to three times in a week. Water should be applied slowly, especially on slopes, hopefully allowing for deep rooting. You should water long enough for moisture to reach 8 to 12 inches in soil depth. Avoid

overwatering because it may cause various problems including nutrient leaching and root rot. If you have a squishy lawn to walk on or standing water, you are likely overwatering or even have drainage problems. Yellowish-green grass can also be an indicator of too much water. This can result in a shallow root system that can prevent your grass from withstanding temperature extremes. What kind of grass is best for this region?

Cool season grasses are a better bet to grow in Idaho. They withstand the winter months better and do well in cooler summer climates.

growth characteristic than other crested wheatgrass varieties. We have covered the basics for good lawn maintenance, but more information is available through the National Turfgrass Evaluation Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. You can also check with local nurseries and landscaping companies for additional advice.

These include bluegrass varieties, of which Kentucky Bluegrass is probably the most popular in this region. Bluegrasses are also most likely used in other mixtures of cool season grasses. They are a little slower to germinate and establish but repair well because of their ability to spread. Crested Wheatgrass is another cool season grass option. It is a bunchgrass however, and would not be used for a lawn but more along roadsides and dry land pastures where a turf grass wouldn’t do well. It is low maintenance and intended for restricted irrigation areas. It will stay green at higher elevations if watered through the summer but will go dormant if water supply is cut off. Again, not the best option for your lawn but more for other low-maintained areas. The variety “Fairway” has a lower, more spreading


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Page C8 - April 22, 2010 - Lawn & Garden Guide - Teton Valley News

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