Rent Shop Volunteer Join

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?

Share

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
3 ratings

Sunday - November 28, 2010

From: Jemez Springs, NM
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Wildflowers
Title: Planters for wildflower exhibit in Jemez Springs NM
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am planning to have a wildflower/pollinator exhibit at a visitor center located on a high elevation grassland (no trees). I would like advice on the size of the planter boxes.The area is located at 8,500 ft. in elevation and I have collected various native seed from the area. The building has north, south, east and west facing aspect and I would place the appropriate species on each side.The species I have collected are mostly annuals: red and blue penstemons, scarlet gilia, horsemint or bee-balm, goldenrod, different types of asters, rocky mountain iris, harebells, yarrow, nodding onion and so forth. My question is: what depth and height should planter boxes be for this annual wildflower display?

ANSWER:

This sounds like a very worthwhile project, and this member of the Mr. Smarty Plants team is familiar with the Jemez Mountain area in the Santa Fe National Forest, which is truly spectacular on its own. Obviously, you already know that there will be difficulties in planting at that elevation and have made the wise choice of using native annual seeds for the planting.

In terms of the boxes for these plants, while we think it is a good idea to set off each area with some kind of border, we would prefer that the roots went into the soil, not into planting mix above the ground. The reason for this is that, as you surely know, even in mid-summer it can get very cold at night where you are working. The best insulator is the Earth itself, and the less exposure the roots have to the cold, the better. The roots, which hold the moisture for the plant, are very vulnerable. If the cold is such that the water in those roots freezes, the plant will die, before it has had a chance to set seed for next year's display. We are not familiar with the soil you have, but assume it is pretty rocky. For that reason, we suggest digging out planting areas for the wildflowers and amending the soil with compost. As this compost continues to decompose, it will create more warmth for the seeds and then the roots that you plant in Spring.

Exposure in each direction really is not as important as the amount of sun available in the planting area, and the amount of sun each of your annuals requires. We will take some of your choices and check out the amount of sun they need. You can follow each plant link to the page on that plant in our Native Plant Database, and, of course, check any other native plant in that database.

Since there are often many plants identified by one common name, such as "penstemon," we checked for the color you mentioned, that the plant we selected grew in or near Sandoval County, and its light requirements. Of the ones we searched for, none were annuals, 1 was biennial and the others perennial. Perhaps you are planning to treat them all as annuals; if not, in order for them to survive over the winter, it will be even more important to have their roots deep in the soil, and that they be mulched in the Winter. All but one of the plants requires part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun a day) which may cause you some problems as you say the area is in an open grassland without trees.

 Penstemon strictus (Rocky mountain penstemon) - perennial subshrub, blooms blue, purple May and June, part shade. From our page on this plant: Native Habitat: Open, often rocky soil at moderate elevations.

Penstemon eatonii (Firecracker penstemon) - part shade, blooms red May to August.

Ipomopsis aggregata (Scarlet gilia) - part shade, blooms red August to October.

Solidago multiradiata (Northern goldenrod) - part shade, blooms yellow July to September

Iris missouriensis (Rocky mountain iris) - sun (6 or more hours of sun a day), blooms purple May and June.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Penstemon strictus


Penstemon eatonii


Ipomopsis aggregata


Solidago multiradiata


Iris missouriensis

 

 

 

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Problems with Carolina Laurel Cherry from Pflugerville, TX
September 02, 2011 - In 2007 we planted 7 Carolina Laurelcherry (Prunus caroliniana)across our back fence. Everything was fine until this year. Three of the trees seemed to get sick and a local arborist said the roots ne...
view the full question and answer

Possibility of hydrophobic soil in Austin, TX.
July 13, 2011 - I believe I have an area in my garden with “hydrophobic soil”: no matter how much or how slowly I water, it just beads up and rolls off and the soil beneath remains cement dry and powdery. In my readi...
view the full question and answer

What is composted mulch from Springfield IL
July 01, 2010 - I love the look of hard wood mulch. It is my understanding that this wood mulch that is so readily available in bulk and bags is not "composted mulch". I have been told that this type of mulch pull...
view the full question and answer

Fertilizer amounts for native perennials in Belton, TX
March 18, 2009 - I am a novice gardener and need advice on how to fertilize my native perennials. I would like to use organic fertilizer and need advice on exactly what to use. I have a compost pile but it does not ...
view the full question and answer

Yellowing leaves
May 06, 2008 - What causes yellowing of native garden plant leaves?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.