Plant projects

This page tracks a few “plant projects” related to our house and cabin and is a work in progress.

We have a cabin with two and a half acres that is at 8700 feet in elevation. The elevation, slope (sun angle), windiness, and seasonal cold temperatures present a challenge for planting on parts of the property. I’d like to create a windbreak on the western side of the property, which has a southern facing slope. The soil in this area is very rocky.

Some natural/existing plants on the property

  • Ponderosa Pine
  • Limber Pine
  • Colorado Blue Spruce
  • Quaking aspen
  • Willow (needs to be confirmed – but there’s a lot of this near the pond)
  • Wax currant
  • Shrubby Cinquefoil
  • Sagebrush
  • Narrowleaf Paintbrush
  • Various kinds of low-growing juniper

I’ll add to this list as I’m able to identify plants.

Notes on dying Limber Pine and “White Pine Blister Rust” (WPBR)

The Limber Pine all appear to be dying. I believe this is at least in part due to a species of fungus called White Pine Blister Rust (WPBR). This WPBR evidently attacks 5-needle pines (like Limber Pine) and requires the presence of other kinds of plants to complete its lifecycle (Wax Currant is one of those species). I briefly considered attempting to remove all the Wax Currant, but from reading more on the subject I don’t think this will help for several reasons. First, the WPBR already appears to be established in the Limber Pine. Second, Wax Currant is very difficult to remove. There’s a lot of it, and it evidently comes back from any roots that are missed. Finally, even if I remove all the Wax Currant from my property, there is still a lot of Wax Currant on the bordering properties that would allow the fungus to complete its cycle and spread.

Notes on prevailing wind direction and slopes

The prevailing wind direction generally comes from the south and west, but I’ve observed with wind coming from all directions over time. The winds are extraordinarily strong and persistent at times, although I’ve haven’t measured the wind speed yet. I believe this plays a factor in whether plants will succeed in growing at various points on the property. The property is sloped toward the south for the most part. However, there are some level parts, and there are slopes that face more toward the east, starting from a small outcrop. The hadows of the cab, the trees, and east facing slope allowed me to make some observations that I think will be important.

I noticed in the evening as the sun sets toward the west, the easterly shadows line up almost perfectly with where the larger plants are growing more successfully. This includes the Cinquefoil, Sagebrush, low-growing juniper, and some young pines ; including Ponderosa Pine and Limber Pine. However, I feel almost certain that the Limber Pine will eventually be infected by and succumb to the WPBR. I have higher hopes for the Ponderosa Pines which seem to do well in the area. The lower (southern) portion of the property borders a creek, has a grove of Quaking Aspen, and is much lusher than the rest of the property. In the southeast corner there is a pond and a lot of what I believe to be some species of Willow Tree. There are also some Blue Spruce that appear to be doing well in that area.

There is a field on the eastern side of the property that I plan to “leave alone” for the most part. In the warmer part of the year, it is full of various kinds of flowers and is an interesting feature of the property. It is also a great place to let dogs run around. There is a trail that meanders around the property that measure 1,394 feet total, approximately 0.26 miles. I have measured this both with a measuring wheel and with a GPS tracker. Part of the trail goes around this field. Besides the addition of the trail itself, the only other change to the field we are planning is to better mark the trail with additional plants. I’m going to try to use native plants wherever possible and mind the Colorado Noxious Weeds List. I had looked up more specific lists at one point for Larimer County. I’ll need to find this again to cite it, but the list I remember tripping across didn’t seem to be actively maintained and seemed to be inline with the Colorado list. There is no such specific list for Red Feather Lakes or the Crystal Lakes Property Owners Association (POA) that I am aware of or could find reference to.

I am most concerned with establishing a natural wind barrier of sorts on the western border of the property. This is where most of the wind comes from and I believe the best (and most challenging) area to concentrate on. I believe this will be a multi-year (probably multi decade) project that I will turn into a minor hobby of sorts. This is a southern facing slope with full sun exposure from the west. The initial plants that we add will need to be very hardy. Existing plants are mostly grasses at this time, with some random Wax Currant and Cinquefoil.

Focus areas

There is already a healthy grove of Aspen on the southern border of the property and I like the open space on most of our property. However, there are places where I believe planting adding vegetation makes sense. There are three five areas I have thought about for planting. The first, and greatest priority is the western border wind barrier. We will work on a natural wind barrier along that border. This will likely be a layered project with several species of hardy shrubs and trees (both deciduous and evergreen). Second, anywhere along the 0.26 mile property trail edge I’d like to add plants where it will be helpful to mark the trail better. This will likely include a lot of shrubs started from cuttings of existing plants on the property; including Cinquefoil, Wax Currant, Sagebrush, and Juniper. Thirdly, where it makes sense, I would like to plant more Ponderosa on the northern border of the property. I believe Ponderosa a are good choice based on the existing Ponderosas that appear to be doing well. I have observed Douglas Fir and other evergreens growing on other properties in the area, which I might consider as well. Fourthly, I’d like to replace the dying Limber Pine that are (or were in some cases) to the east of the cabin setting on a rocky level area with a small southern facing rock outcrop. By cutting out the dead trees, we have opened up our view, which is very nice. However, I feel like it would be a good idea to replant the area. I’ll probably have to experiment a bit, but I think working with Ponderosa pine that are already a few years old at least (for transplanting) would be my best bet. I believe replanting Limber Pine would be an exercise in frustration with the presence of WPBR. I read some articles where the USDA has experimental Limber Pine groves where their trying to find strains of limber pine that might be resistant to WPBR. I’ll look more into this, but i’m not holding my breath that I’ll have access to WPBR resistant Limber Pine anytime soon. Finally (and the least of my concern), I’d like to fill in the area around the pond to complete its “feeling of isolation”. For the most part, it is surrounded by vegetation, but there are still places where I can see the cabin and people driving along the dirt road to the north.

Experiments at home

To facilitate what will later be experiments at the cabin, I am growing a lot of plants from cuttings and seeds at my home in Fort Collins. I started this wiki page to begin documenting some of these “experiments”. Here is a list of some things that I am currently attempting to grow (at various stages from seeds (some stratifying), new growth, and cuttings):

  • Colorado native
    • Colorado Blue Spruce
    • Wax Currant
    • Shrubby Cinquefoil
    • Douglas Fir
    • Various low-growing Juniper
    • Rocky Mountain Juniper
    • Virginia Creeper
  • A little more exotic
    • Siberian Peashrub
    • Siberian Elm
    • Siberian Larch
    • Burning Bush

I’ll add details to this list later, along with reasons for selection. In some cases, I want to use certain plants to accelerate establishment of initial foliage, but not necessarily to keep them there “permanently”. In all case, I’m choosing plant that are cold hardy for the area and I believe “have a shot” at survival given the harsh windy and dry conditions that we’ll often have at the cabin. I believe that initial establishment will be the most difficult part along the western border, but I believe we should be able to establish the wind barrier I’m aiming for “eventually”. I may be old or dead before the wind barrier is properly established, but it will be an interesting challenge to work on in any case. I’ll post pictures of plant growth in my “indoor nursery” (my office) and at the cabin as time goes on…