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Let’s Talk Dirt

by Susan Simons

    We’re going to plant a perennial garden in this column.  The column will run until the end of May and feature at least two plants each week that are just right for the gardening conditions we have in this county: hot sun, low moisture, high winds, poor soil, high altitude, short growing season, critters that nibble.  Along the way, you’ll find hints about location, soil preparation, buying plants, and so on.

    This garden I have in mind for you will be on the east, south or west side of your house or of a wall or fence. You might as well go dig up the soil today while it’s still damp, maybe 12’ by 6’. Curve the outside edge.   Chances are your soil will be coarse sand or hard clay.  Dig in lots of aged manure.  Aged is best so that weed seeds have been cooked.  If you can’t locate manure, use bags of organic compost.  Cover with straw, hay or brush,  choosing material that won’t introduce weed seeds.  Let it sit. We aren’t going to plant until mid-May.

    The two plants featured this week are Russian Sage and Moonshine Yarrow. Both grow to be about 3-4 feet high and can be 3-4 feet wide. You won’t see this size until the second or third year, but plan for it. Because of their size, they will go in the back of the garden about a foot from the wall. Both Russian Sage and Moonshine Yarrow attract butterflies. Both will need to be watered regularly the first season until established. The sage is very fragrant.

    Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) is about the toughest plant around once established.  You may have seen it in the southeast corner of the Spanish Peaks Library bed. It has silver-gray, notched leaves and spikes of bright blue flowers from July through September.  It doesn’t like a wet crown or wet feet so if your soil is hard clay, add compost and manure until it drains well, and water the soil, not the plant.

    Moonshine Yarrow (Achillea x ‘Moonshine’) is also very adaptable and tough.  It too has gray-green foliage and discs of lemon-yellow blooms that start in early spring and continue all summer.

    If a neighbor is growing either of these perennials, you may find new seedlings around the base of the plant. You should be able to transplant these in a couple of weeks.  Send comments or questions to

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