The Grand View - RMG

digit(ID/WA)November 5, 2006

Hi Everyone,

The forum title refers to "Rocky Mountain Gardening" but what does that mean?

The highlands in the middle of the mountain West would certainly fit any description but would the high desert of Utah, or Nevada, how about Oregon? If the high plains of Wyoming are to be included, what about the high plains of eastern Montana? And, are there really any real differences between the growing environment of the Rockies and that of the Sierra Nevadas or even the Cascades?

I cannot find a definition of any sort on the Rocky Mountain Gardening forum. At the risk of contention, let me express some facts and opinions.

Factually, my own gardening environment is a valley in the Selkirk Range of the Rockies right on the border of Washington and Idaho. I became frustrated looking for help from a state Cooperative Extension Service which directed me to information from Puyallup on Washingtons Puget Sound. Wonderful area but it had precious little to do with my growing conditions with less than 20 inches of precipitation each year; most Summer days with relative humidity dropping below 20 percent; and a zone 5 Winter when most of that annual precipitation occurs in the form of snow.

One thing, I believe that the USDA zone hardiness map has very little to do with anything other than the survival of trees and other perennial plants through Winter. Useful there but it has little to do with our growing seasons. IÂm not alone in this opinion; it has been widely expressed on GardenWeb.

IÂve never paid much attention to the Sunset Magazine classifications thinking that they were most applicable to CaliforniaÂs widely varied conditions. But, I took a look at them yesterday. Also, I looked at National GardeningÂs zone map  which seems to follow the Sunset lines but uses a broader brush.

I believe that SunsetÂs zones 1 and 2 are clearly what could be considered a very similar growing environment if we do not weigh precipitation too much into the classification of Rocky Mountain Gardening.

Now, this is not as helpful for my purposes since precipitation (and its opposite  sunlight and aridness) was my initial reason for coming to the RMG forum. However, Wallace, in Idaho's Bitterroots, receives nearly as much precipitation as those Puget Sound test gardens.

IÂm not nearly as concerned about elevation altho this feature must be of paramount importance for many gardeners in the Central Rockies. To explain that: My gardens are at just above 2,000 feet. By any definition, that isnÂt very high especially when compared to northern New Mexico or even nearby eastern Oregon. Still, if we use the old rule of thumb that each thousand feet of elevation equals 3.5 degrees (250 miles) of latitude - - my gardens could be placed above 6,000 feet in New Mexico. The lower elevation does mean that the Summer sun is a little less intense however, even with greater cloud cover, the Winter sun riding low on the southern horizon provides very, very weak energy through those months.

I think that what could also be said about Rocky Mountain gardening is that experience with local conditions is all important. But, having said that, sharing experience across a broad region leads to broad knowledge with important application in our own gardens.


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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi Steve,

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map only lists average minimum winter temperatures. I never realized some people think it has something to do with overall growing conditions. The USDA site itself explains this:

Interactions With Other Environmental Factors. Many other factors may come into play in determining satisfactory growth. Wind, soil type, soil moisture, humidity, snow, and winter sunshine may greatly affect the adaptability of plants.

Interactions With Cultural Factors. The way plants are placed in the landscape, how they are planted, and their size and health can greatly influence satisfactory adaptability.

I've always been under the impression that Sunset does the same thing, just breaking areas down into more detail.

This is how I chose to describe gardening in Rocky Mountsin areas when asked to come up with a description for the new RMG Forum on Garden Buddies:

A friendly, helpful meeting place for gardeners in the inter-mountain regions where high altitude, low humidity, lack of precipitation, and clay soil can be challenging.

I know our alltitudes can vary a lot, but I think the lack of precipitation and soil conditions give us all something in common. It's like someone once said about a different "issue," I can't define it for you, but I know it when I see it!

Happy Rocky Mountain Gardening,

    Bookmark   November 5, 2006 at 1:08PM
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I was a little curious about the common challenge of clay soil conditions, Skybird. Nearly my entire gardening experience has been on what I have understood to be glacial till. Apparently, glacial till amounts to different soil in various parts of the world. Here, it is mostly composed of granite and gneiss eroded from the mountains. It is generally a thorough mixture of sand, gravel and boulders (cobble) but there are areas with one or more of these components dominating. I'd be pleased to have a little more clay instead of so much rock but clay seems to be the material in shortest supply.

The Sunset folks claim that their classifications are based on, " . . . the total climate: length of growing season, timing and amount of rainfall, winter lows, summer highs, humidity." I really wonder how carefully they take all these factors into account. But, at least the concern isn't entirely Winter low temperatures.

With 40 some climate zones across the nation, the nursery supply people are probably not too interested in using the classifications. However, zone 1 and 2 is a vast region on the map. (And, imagine what it would amount to if the wrinkles were ironed out of it . . . really, really BIG ;o)


    Bookmark   November 5, 2006 at 5:22PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Wow! I always thought my clay was hard to work with! Gardening in gravel would be even worse I guess. How do you manage to keep moisture and nutrients in the soil? Most of the people posting on RMG seem to refer to their soil as being some type of clay. There are some areas in my yard--fairly small luckily--where I swear I could dig up a shovel full of soil and actually use it for modeling clay! It's virtually pure clay! Most of the yard has at least some organic matter with the clay, and I ALWAYS add more whenever I'm planting anything. AND, since I discovered my compost pile is a worm farm, I've been "transplanting" worms by the handfuls too whenever I'm planting. Do you have worms in your soil?

From my experience selling perennials, you'd be amazed how many people didn't even know what their USDA zone was, much less their Sunset zone. Lots of them didn't even know what a "zone" was! LOL And with people coming into the metro Denver area from all over the place, it's not like we could just assume they were somewhere in z5. We did also have our lists of plants by altitudes which really helped when people came in from out in the hills--most of them knew what their altitude was. And the altitude lists weren't based exclusively on zones. Add to that the fact that you can often find varying opinions on just how hardy any particular plant is, and the fact that microclimates can vary from one side of a yard to the other, I always recommended that if somebody found something they really wanted, and the zone or altitude listing was close to where they were, that they go ahead and give it a try---starting out with it in the sunniest or most sheltered or best drained or whatever area depending on the particular plant. That's what I do if there's something I really want---and it usually works. And, in the end, it really is the only way to find out if something will work in any one place or not---regardless of what all the maps and books say. For me half the fun of perennial gardening is experimenting! I saved seeds from some glads I didn't get deadheaded this year and I'm gonna give 'em a try. Don't have a clue if they're viable or not---but I'll find out! And I have seed for true Pampas Grass that isn't supposed to be hardy in z5 that I'm gonna try too--on the south side of my privacy fence where it gets sun even in the winter. I really hope that one works, because I LOVE the stuff.


    Bookmark   November 5, 2006 at 7:39PM
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On my tombstone, Skybird, they'll write, "He gardened in gravel but he finished with a good sense of humus."

There are loess soils around eastern Washington - most notably the rolling Palouse Hills. And in smaller patches, the winds have blown soil out of the Columbia Basin and piled it against the foothills. Of course, where it hasn't actually piled up, the loess has contributed to whatever soil it's fallen upon. Not all that long ago, Mount St. Helens ash did the same.

While going to college in the Palouse country, I had a small garden. It was impossible. I had no idea how to keep the soil loose. It makes wonderful bricks and that seems to be what I was up to - making bricks out of the clay.

There's a little clay in the gravel everywhere here abouts. However, sometimes its difficult to find it what with the stone mulch that forms after running sprinklers a few times.

I have to pay close attention to the water needs of the plants as you can well imagine. Further, it is best to apply fertilizers (organic in the vegetables) very carefully. I feel that nutrients would just "wash away" if they are casually thrown about.

Organic matter is a real answer but with a large garden - is there ever enuf of it?

Oh yes, there are some worms. Where I have developed deeply cultivated beds over the years and incorporated copious amounts of things like pine needles and kitchen wastes these worms grow fat and sassy. Even under the stone mulch areas, there are worms.

And, zones? Until yesterday, I wouldn't have been able to tell you that I live in Sunset zone 2. Except for Boise Valley and a small area from Walla Walla to Pasco, all of MT, ID and eastern WA are either zone 1 or 2. Those zones extend into southern Canada. Perhaps the difficulty for including the zones in a Rocky Mountain area is that they extend into the Dakotas, western Nebraska and the Sierras of Nevada and California.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 3:13AM
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david52 Zone 6

I live on a SW facing slope, running from the mountains down towards the desert, pinion / juniper forest (well, the pinion all died) and sage brush. 13" annual precipitation, very low humidity, 6500 ft altitude.

I'd say the common challenge of the entire "Rocky Mountain" area is, generally speaking, the aridity, particularly in the winter. That seems to determine what perennials I can grow and what I can't. There are many ways to 'modify' this environment, through plant placement around buildings and such.

Soils, well I got clay, I got sand stone, I got loess, I got gravel, and thats on my 3 acres. To get the glacial till, I have to drive a couple miles.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 4:19PM
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In all honesty, David and Skybird, I thought there were more Rocky Mountain areas with greater precipitation than what there appears to be. I've been to Vail & Aspen and up here in northwestern Montana. Well, it's certainly green . . . evergreen.

Then, I took a good look at the information linked below. I can't figure out the parent webpage but if you go into the address bar and type in a state's postal abbreviation on BOTH sides of the slash (Arizona - az/az, Idaho - id/id, etc.), you'll see all of the annual precipitation for weather stations in the Western states.

You essential must go to elevations so high that crops cannot grow to find areas with greater than 25 inches of precipitation. Certainly, all of the agricultural regions have less than that. Further, as one example (and you can check this elsewhere on the site), Montana only has one-quarter of its precipitation falling during the growing season. I suppose that means that you'd be lucky to find anywhere you could grow crops that averages 1 inch of rain during ANY Summer month.

If we think of the terms arid and semi-arid as defining regions that receive a low annual precipitation of 0 to 20 inches and do not excluding forested regions - the gardens in the Rockies are essentially all arid or semi-arid. What we are saying here certainly makes sense - dry, dry, dry growing seasons.

Wikipedia gives some examples of types of semi-arid biomes that include steppes, high plains, the southern edge of the Sahara and large portions of Australia's Outback. The common "Köppen" climate classification system effectively excludes any forested area. I'd be curious what climatologists think about this vast area of the Rockies. What I find some saying is that the Köppen system is "the least demanding on data." What that seems to mean for our part of the world is that if it's cold enuf, precipitation doesn't matter. This guy Köppen was no agriculturalist.

The thinking was to describe the Rockies as a "Humid Temperate Domain." I find that startling especially when looking at these annual precipitation levels. How can it be so damn dry during our growing seasons and still be considered "humid?" According to, "humid climate (climatology) A climate whose typical vegetation is forest. Also known as forest climate." I'm afraid to ask David why those pinion pines all died.


    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 7:38PM
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Thanks for the link. I think this is the parent page you're looking for. It has info by state on lots of other climate averages (like temperature, days with measurable precipitation, etc) as well.

There are differences in different parts of the Rocky Mountain states, but I think there are enough similarities that there's a lot that applies to the entire area. Almost most of us have arid conditions during the growing season and get almost all of our precipitation during the winter. The rest live in areas like Phoenix and get even less precipitation and don't know what winter is.

These conditions lead to mostly alkaline soils and struggles trying to get enough water without wasting it.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2006 at 11:27PM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

"Humid temperate domain!" LOL Whoever said that has never lived here! On one of my flites a couple months ago I was talking to a woman who had just moved to Denver and she told me her little girl had asked her why she wakes up "with rocks in her nose" every morning! Not TOO humid! But I grew up in Chicago and HATE humidity, so it's well worth dealing with the "little inconveniences" of low humidity just to have all the advantages! And I'll deal with watering my garden since there are just too many non-xeric perennials I'm determined to have! Denver is generally considered to be high-plains desert--definitely semi-arid and if something catastrophic happened and all watering suddenly ceased, most of the vegetation would die off within a couple years--except along the Platte and Cherry Creek and other permanent water sources. I bet that's true in most areas where people consider themselves to be Rocky Mountain Gardeners!


P.S. I bet David's Pinions died because of pine beetles! When I was up in Yellowstone in September I couldn't believe the pine devastation on the east side of the park.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 12:21AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado


I found this when I was shopping around for information and it just looked like something you might be interested in. I forgot to put it in the last post!

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 12:38AM
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You did indeed find the parent page, Bpgreen! I've marked it as a favorite and will go back there often, I'm sure.

Skybird, that ND U website has some maps that look germane to a growing area discussion. This would fairly closely follow Sunset:

Rocky Mountain Gardening



A. Columbia Plateau
B. Colorado Plateau
C. Nevada Basin and Range


A. Missouri Plateau,
B. Black Hills
C. Colorado Piedmont


    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 2:00AM
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david52 Zone 6

We had a nasty drought a few years back, what with tree moisture measurements at Mesa Verde at 6%. Kiln dried lumber is 10%. The drought stressed the trees to the point that the ipsis beetle, which does pretty much what the pine beetle does, decimated the pinion trees from central Arizona all through western Colorado, millions of acres. Around here, I'd say 98% of them died. Changed the entire ecosystem, as so many critters depend on the nuts.

Yesterday, on a stop 'n sniff the roses break, I went on a short hike up the hill west of McPhee Reservoir, allowing a view of the San Juans, Blues, Mesa Verde, Sleeping Ute, etcetra, and was surprised to see hundreds of little, 1 inch high, pinion seedlings all over the place.

So, in another 100 years, maybe back in business.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 10:43AM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

Great discussion folks. Really enjoying it and the links.

I'm out on the plains, but we are situated on the eastern tip of the Palmer Divide and are actually a higher altitude than Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, and Greeley. I'm always dumbfounded when the TV weather people call us a low spot. Ha ha ha. The weather station is out at the airport which is in a low flood plain, near a creek with trees. There's the low spot.

This is dryland farm and ranch country. Just to the north of town is a rugged area called Cedar Breaks, the tip of which is mentioned in the Great Plains article, Cedar Point. There isn't a cedar to be seen there anymore, hasn't been for my lifetime, but look north from the road and they are there. Just to the south the elevation drops precipitously to sandhills and brush more reminiscent of David's area.

I will have to agree that the lack of precip is probably the biggest common element we all have in RMG.

Great discussion, all.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 11:14AM
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Good news about our grandchildren seeing the return of those pinion forests, David.

Just to give you an idea of how I take the looong view:


Here I am beside a rain-streaked window talking about an arid climate.


    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 11:33AM
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stevation(z5a Utah)

Hey, looking at the online Sunset map, it seems to be missing some detail. I have the Sunset Western Garden Book, published after they revised the old zones, and it says we're in a zone 3a or 3b (can't remember which right now) in Utah Valley. The online map doesn't show the zone 3 stuff around here but the book does.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2006 at 6:30PM
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We should be pleased to live in such a varied part of the world, Stevation. (lovely mountains there to the east of you :o)

The alternative is to drag those who have crossed the Jordan into these "banana belts" a few miles back up the hill.

I've long fantasized on finding some little piece of land down in the Walla Walla valley - just a little easier growing climate altho' about the same precip. Then I go down there and it always smells of either fertilizer or onions. And, fishing . . . well, I don't know . . . the Blues are close by . . . but then I'm back up in the mountains.


    Bookmark   November 8, 2006 at 1:41AM
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I had to go back and look at that message from Jaliranchr & then look again at the Great Plains reference. You see, I knew that the Cedar Breaks National Monument is in Utah. (I don't know much about eastern Colorado and havent seen most of it.)

All that got me to thinking about native plants. We've got cedar here but it is the western red cedar. A lot of it grows in the Olympic Peninsula rain forest hardly appropriate to a discussion of this entire region.

What plant grows throughout our Rocky Mountain area but naturally nowhere else?

I had a few ideas but soon discovered that some of our invasive weeds like St. John's Wort and my favorite weed White-stemmed Filaree, grow darn near everywhere in North America. Blue elderberry grows almost everywhere in the West it can find water but isn't too common at higher elevations. Red alder is about the same but goes higher into the hills. Turns out that serviceberry has quite a number of varieties but it is the Cusick's serviceberry that grows in all the appropriate areas here in the north unfortunately, it peters out to the south. Oddly, the Utah serviceberry has a much wider range north to south but is "scattered" in its distribution. Artemisia is most everywhere in the region but there's no one common variety.

Below is a link to something that Skybird probably already knows about from the Denver Botanic Gardens and Colorado State U. Folks interested in domesticated varieties of native plants would do well to take a look beautiful.


    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 12:41AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

Hi all,

LOL Cedar Breaks NM is the first thing I thought about too when I saw that. I almost wrote a post when I saw it, but didn't have time. Hey, Jali, think we should petition the government to have YOUR Cedar Breaks turned into another national monument? (Then I'd have an excuse to drive out and visit you!)

How about Quaking Aspen for a plant that grows throughout our region--at the right altitude at least--and, unfortunately, at some lower altitudes---like in my neighbor's yard---with suckers ALL OVER in MY front yard! They don't grow in the "mountains" back east, do they? I don't think their mountains are even high enough for Aspen!

And does Artimesia tridentata (sagebrush!) grow outside of the Rocky Mountain region? Not sure about that one! And Artemisia frigida is another possibility. That's a Colorado native one that grows in the tiniest little cracks in rocks all over the RM area. I just can't picture either one of those two back east or on the west coast--and they're things "low landers" wouldn't be too inclined to cultivate it seems to me. Don't know how you'd find out for sure. I have a whole list of Colorado native perennials, but looking over the list, I think most of them are cultivated pretty much everywhere. Things like Penstemon strictus/Rocky Mountain penstemon. But if you're looking for things that don't occur "naturally" in other places, several of these might fit the bill.

And, yes, I know about PlantSelect! Back when I was still selling perennials I went to a few of the PlantSelect meetings when they were trying to pick the following year's selections--and promote the current year's selections. I know Panayoti Kelaidis from DBG (got seeds for some unusual animals from him one time) and jim Klett from CSU--they're the two principal guys with PS. There are some really good plants in that program---and a few duds too! I have several of them in my yard (not the duds!). My two favorites are Aquilegia chrysantha, a VERY fragrant, yellow columbine (CO native), and Mesa Verde Iceplant, Delosperma 'Kelaidis', with wonderful salmon iceplant flowers that absolutely sparkle when the sun hits them. Maybe when things start growing again next spring I could send you all a few cuttings if you'd like!

One other thing I haven't had time to comment on! The pine beetle devastation in the old forests driving up to Yellowstone on the east side was really bad, but once I got into the park and into the burn areas from the '88 fires, it was even more incredible to see the miles and miles of dense, new pine forests almost everywhere there had been fire. Because of the fire releasing so many lodgepole seeds, the trees are growing so thickly in many places that in a few years, as they get even bigger, many of them--the weaker ones--will probably start dying off as the stronger ones start to block out more of the sun. Fire may seem catastrophic at the time, but to actually be there and see the renewal of the land is like being allowed to watch a miracle in progress. And because the new forests are all young and healthy, there was absolutely NO pine beetle damage in those areas. Nature takes care of itself! And one more thing about Yellowstone---it was pretty darn spooky to be walking around on top of one of the world's few super volcanos--and to be looking at the evidence of it everywhere you went! If it blows in our lifetime---we're all goners! And there's another chapter in the geology of the RM area! They have a great new exhibit in the one visitor's center that tells all about the history of the volcano. I LOVE to look at the geology of the land whenever I get a chance to sit in a window seat when I'm working--or flying for fun! It's absolutely fascinating! One time when I was working we wound up flying right over the top of all the Natl. Parks and Monuments in southern Utah--Cedar Breaks for instance, and there were empty seats in the back of the plane and I had time and sat down and looked and looked. It was absolutely incredible to see all that from the air and I kept wishing it wouldn't end!

Bed time!

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 2:42AM
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Can't get those aspens very far out into the plains and plateaus . . . well, you can . . . but I now understand Skybird's and my previous neighbor's blight . . .

Yes, Artemisia tridentata is fairly characteristic but, Skybird, the USDA doesn't show it growing in eastern CO. (??) And, they've got it in SoCal. Artemisia frigida is a cute rock plant but they've got it all the way back to Massachusetts - now I'm sure we are going to far afield. We've got a smaller artemisia (might be invasive wormwood for all I know) that grows along every waterway, especially those that run dry. Also, there's a broader leaf sage that grows in the ponderosa/douglas fir forests, right under the big trees - nice plant.

Here's another idea - - I can remember when I first came with my family to this part of the world and all the Arrowleaf Balsamroot was in bloom. I believe it is just about everywhere in the Intermontane/Rockies/Northern Great Plains. Yes?

The link below will allow you to look at every county but I'm certain that information is not always complete. Nevertheless, that database is just soooo super (if it works, like every other US gov website the darn thing doesn't always ;o)


I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
Bill Shakespeare

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 11:39AM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

Well, Skybird, our Cedar Breaks, or Breaks as locals call them, are not as dramatic or stunningly beautiful as the Cedar Breaks in Utah, but they are unexpected, rugged and lovely. We use to go tubing out there as kids, think they still do. There's one hill that's sublime for tubing, probably a mile and a half hike back to the top. Lots of arrowhead hunting too.

You don't see it from I-70, but to the south of Agate, there's Chapparal, which is very wooded. Most people don't know of these little pockets of lovely surprises because they are privately owned.

There was a fort at Cedar Point at the height of the Indian Wars. It was built by soldiers out of Ft. Wallace in Kansas. All the cedar trees at the Point were cut down and shipped into Denver for the emerging city in the late 1860s. Yes, I'm an area history junkie. :) When I go riding, my imagination goes wild with all that happened on these lonely prairies.

Here's a site that mentions many of the native plants. One you find along the creeks is the sand cherry. Sturdy, lovely plant but doesn't like clay.

I've got a book Klett compiled, "Best Perennials for the Rocky Mountains and High Plains" that I find very handy to have around.

I agree about Yellowstone, Skybird, what a different landscape it is from the pre-fire days. I'm glad I saw it before and since. Lovely in their own ways and remarkable how Mother Nature can mend. I also marvel at the flatness of places in Kansas and how you can almost see the curve of the earth. I take each place on its own merits and drink it in.

    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 11:43AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

LOL again! I skipped right over your link to the USDA Distribution map, Steve, but I found the same site myself when I googled US plant distribution! Guess I could have saved myself the time if I had just slowed down and noticed your link to start with!

It's a great site, but the very last thing I looked up was quaking aspen and they show them all over the place, so I don't know what to think about that! Their figures are supposed to refer to naturally occurring plants, aren't they? I grew up in northern Illinois, and they show aspen all over the north half of the state---but I didn't even know what a quaking aspen was till I moved to CO in '64! What's wrong with this picture!

Of the other things I checked, I found a few that are close! Here they are if you want to check them yourself:

Erigeron compositus and Erigeron flagellaris. I had thought of the Erigeron's, and these 2 are on my CO natives list!
Eriogonum umbellatum, Sulphur Flower
Geranium richardsonii
Hymenoxis hoopesii (a/k/a Helenium h.)
Mimulus lewisii Are we including AZ and NM in the Rocky Mtns?

I didn't take the time to check every state for each of them, but I think some of these are about as close as we're going to get! I'm not really into trees and bushes, so I can't help much there! I don't remember which right now, but one of these was missing Washington--which probably wouldn't make the folks from eastern WA too happy!

Jali, your Cedar Breaks sounds like it just might be worth a drive out sometime too! When I went on vacation to Glacier NP and up to Waterton Provincial Park a few years ago I was looking for things to see near the parks and found something up in Canada called the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump. If anybody ever gets up that way (Ft. Macleod AB) I HIGHLY recommend it. Your mentioning all the things that have happened on the prairies/plains made me think of it. It's one of the places where the Indians used to run the buffalo off of the low bluffs to kill them. The museum was really excellent and completely explained what was done and how--and there was a movie that explained it and re-enacted it. Then, after seeing all the exhibits inside you walked the path outside that took you to the very top of the bluffs and another path that took you below them and because of the exhibits you knew exactly what you were looking at. The name of the place is because one time one of the Indian braves got stuck at the bottom of the bluff against the rock wall, and as the buffalo kept running over the edge and the buffalo pile got higher and higher, he got smashed against the side of the cliff! I just happened to think--they probably have a web site! Here it is!

How expensive was the Jim Klett book? It sounds like something I'd enjoy! Most of the people in the Denver area are Devotees of Lauren Springer, but I've never thought too much of her so I don't have any of her books!

With Yellowstone, unfortunately the last time I had seen it I was only about 6 years old, so I can't say I remember it!!! But I sure am glad I decided to spend my vacation up there this year---even though it was FREEZING most of the time I was there! WELL worth it!

And Kansas! Well Kansas is another thing! Back in the 70's my ex and I would drive to Hutchinson Kansas to visit good friends, and, I swear, there's nothing between Denver and Hutch except BUGS! The speed limit was 80 in the daytime (we drove 90), and 70 at nite (we drove 80), and it seemed to take FOREVER to get there! But, like you say, isn't it fun to fantasize/speculate on all the things that have taken place there---even in FLAT Kansas! Have you ever read Centennial by Michener? Bet you'd love it! He's my favorite author! He absolutely carries you along and you feel like you're part of the story as you read it.


    Bookmark   November 9, 2006 at 9:05PM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

Great thread and links, everyone. Didn't mean to prattle, but I'd like folks to know that out here we have more than endless miles of ... well, endless miles and endless miles. ;)

Below is a link to the Klett book, Skybird it was about $13-15. I really like it because it has the handiest spreadsheets in the back showing when the various plants bloom. It has really helped me, and mine is so beaten up it is about time to replace it. It would be very helpful to some of the newer residents, I think.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 11:00AM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

Yes, Centennial is a superb book. Michener was a master of teaching history in an engrossing manner. And yes, the Sand Creek Massacre happened along what we call the Big Sandy (the Big Sand Fork of the Arkansas), about 60 miles downstream from us. I'm glad they got the fed funds to make that a national monument. That horrid story needs to be told. Centennial, Alaska, and Texas are my top favorites of his books, but I enjoyed all that I read.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 11:06AM
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Thanks for the book recommendation. I actually LIVE in Centennial, CO, named after the Michener novel!

I garden on a 5 acre homeowner's assn. set on a high ridge about 10 miles north of the edge of the palmer divide. I have found about 4 distinct "climates" on the property, ranging from a dry z6 to a moist z4. When I try a new plant, I like to put several in each of the identified zones and see how it likes that particular area. With some natives (and native cultivars) like penstemons there can be a lot of variation in cold /drought tolerance in a single batch of seeds. Personally I believe this may be one of the adaptive advantages these native plants have -- from one year to another moisture and temps may vary, but there is a good likelihood that SOME of the seeds will germinate each year, and the others may hang on a few years in viability to germinate when their perfect conditions come along.

    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 2:16PM
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Greenj1, probably experience with local conditions is most important. That appears to be what you are experiencing even in a 5 acre microcosm.

Skybird, I'd very much like to include northern AZ and NM in Rocky Mt Gardening (& including me, too ;o). Trees are probably not the most characteristic since so much of the region is not forested.

THIS IS FUN . . . but I really lack knowledge . . . Erigeron flagellaris (which isn't in WA, OR, ID) Helenium hoopesii (even tho' I like the name isnt in WA nor in northern Idaho and perhaps not in Montana) nor Mimulus lewisii.

Are you sure you wanted that last one? Not only not in NM and AZ but supposedly in neither eastern WA, eastern Montana, nor eastern Wyoming - the USDA claims it isn't in most of Colorado. I grew monkeyflower in the shade of the house one year - very charming little plant.

They say Erigeron compositus is found in both our part of the world and in rain forest environments . . .

The best choice may well be Geranium richardsonii as characteristic of the region.

Arrowleaf Balsamroot? Is it in your area? Is that a "guys flower?"


    Bookmark   November 10, 2006 at 5:20PM
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Very interesting discussion. I'm in the Rocky Mt Region too but many of the plants you're discussing I've never heard of except for Artemisia. I live in Co south and east of Jali about 80 miles. Low annual rainfall and humidity but our moisture comes mostly in the form of thundrstorms with frequent hail, lightning, hard wind. Except for occasional blizzard our winters are fairly mild. And I have a good sandy loam soil over a clay base.
Here the characteristic plants would be sage, yucca, blue grama grass and prickly pear cactus. I wonder if the information about this area is so off because there are relatively few people in such a vast region that the particulars are just not documented. By the way there is a wonderful nursery in Santa Fe that sells many native plants of this region.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 1:20PM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

Hi, milehi, talk about history rich areas, you have the mother load down there! :)

One site, I knew I had bookmarked, and finally found is [url=]here[/url] You should be able to click on your area and see all the native plants listed.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 5:20PM
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Excellent reference, Jaliranchr!

It should be noted that the website lists NO plant communities for the Western High Plains or the Southwestern Tablelands ecoregions - essentially SE Colorado. I'm not sure what that means . . . are the ecoregions undifferentiated or have they just not gotten around to a more detailed analysis?

Even tho' it is not listed for those ecoregions, I'm still pushing for Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata). In the Native Seed Network, it is listed in all Ponderosa Pine, Mountain Brush, Mountain Big Sagebrush, Juniper-Pinyon, and Basin Big Sagebrush plant communities. These communities are included in the following Native Seed Network ecoregions:

9 Eastern Cascade Slopes
10 Columbia Plateau
43 Northwestern Great Plains
11 Blue Mountains
17 Middle Rockies
80 Northern Basin and Range
18 Wyoming Basin
21 Southern Rockies
20 Colorado Plateaus
19 Wasatch and Uinta Mountains
14 Mojave Basin and Range
13 Central Basin and Range
22 Arizona-New Mexico Plateau

There are other Balsamorhiza found elsewhere in the West but Balsamorhiza sagittata seems unique to the Rocky Mountain region. Altho' the government seems to have the least attractive, there are a multitude of pictures online. Here's a beauty linked below.


    Bookmark   November 11, 2006 at 7:06PM
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This thread began as a means to discuss the issue of Sunset zones. The secondary motive was for me to try to explore the notion that elevation is a factor to RMG but not the only factor.

Over the course of looking at climate data, I discovered that annual precipitation and the time of its occurrence may be a defining feature for the RMG region. Aridity cannot be the only determinate or wed all be over in the Southwest Gardening forum. Previous and somewhat naively, I had thought that these evergreen mountains here and there indicated that there were areas with rather high rainfall amounts - what hadn't quite sunk in was that while that is true, these areas were all at elevations where gardening becomes impossible.

I began wondering if a particular native plant species was representative of the broad RMG region. I'm no expert on native plants so this was a fun exercise even if it doesn't appear to be absolutely successful (perhaps, an impossibility). It seemed to me that the Arrowleaf Balsamroot was most broadly representative. I'm hoping that other gardeners are giving this some thought and will comment.

By way of encouragement, my question now is - what the heck is this plant whose image is used here on GardenWeb to represent Rocky Mountain Gardening:


    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 11:24AM
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david52 Zone 6

Something sticking up out of the snow, so it must be reasonably hardy if it blooms in the winter.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 12:32PM
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jaliranchr(z5 EC CO)

Good one, David! LOL! No idea what it is, Steve, I've often wondered what it was. Maybe a coreopsis? I don't know.

The photos you linked to of the arrowleaf balsamwood are lovely. No, I don't think they are a man's plant. Very pretty and study plant, but, I've never seen anything like that around here, but, that doesn't mean they aren't around. I would guess a lot of shrubs and trees are more common throughout the RMG area than flowers. Just a guess again.

Not only the aridity of the climate but the short growing season, relatively, would be what defines the region. We know this particularly with our veggies, but it is also true with the perennials. Every time I see someone suggest planting up one zone for a south facing area, I resist, because I know as sure as I would try it, we'd have one of those "winter of a half-century" cold spells.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 11:46AM
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Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

The flower looks like a Dianthus knappii, but the foliage isn't right and the color is a little too dark. I wonder how much artistic license was taken with the picture!

Don't have time for more now, I'm trying to get my house cleaned up before I have elbow surgery next Monday! Will be back when I can type again if I don't get back before Monday.

How many of you are in on the current storm?


    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 12:29PM
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Here's wishing you the very best of luck on that surgery, Skybird.

Here in the inland NW we are lined up for a storm that looks like the one that passed thru 24-48 hours ago. That brought us winds with speeds of 40 - 60 mph!

I had initially thought our common plant would be something insignificant. Something like my "favorite" weed - White-stemmed Filaree. Turns out to be an invasive plant right across the US. I consider it a favorite because it is absolutely inconsequential.

Filaree's delicate white blooms carpet the paths on my 1st few trips into the garden in March. By the time I've got my very early gardening work done, it has gone to seed and for the most part completely disappeared. A tiny, tiny plant and as a noxious weed . . . well, it just isn't.

May all of our problems be so minor.


    Bookmark   November 14, 2006 at 11:52PM
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