The Q&A Archives: Landscaping in Idaho

Question: Help! I moved from southern California to a small Idaho town recently and I can't find a fellow gardener who doesn't make me feel dumb that I don't know what a peony or lilac bush looks like. There is only one nursery within 20 miles, so I need to mail order for the first time in my life. The previous owner suggested I use Zone 2 for the front yard (fully exposed to the prevailing winter wind) and Zone 4 for the back (very sheltered by the neighbors lilac hedge). Winter temperature falls to -35, with winds to 50 mph in front yard. Summer temps almost never reach 92 degrees F. The average date of first frost is Sept 7, the last is June 12.The front yard is 75' wide and 60' deep. The back is 75' wide and 110' deep. I urgently need recommendations for the following: 1) a small, spreading tree for the center front yard, deciduous, preferably spring flowering. I'd like something with a growth habit, size and foliage color something like the silk trees we have in southern California.An alternative would be a clump-type planting at one side of the yard near the corner of the house 2) a large, tall shade tree for the back yard, of about the size and shape of a magnolia tree, but preferably not as dense in foliage. It needs to bedeciduous, so the ground in the back yard will thaw by a reasonable date 3) a vine to cover the wrought-iron front porch. It's ok if it climbs on the roof as long as it's deciduous. I've thought about roses, but the neighbors laughed and said they weren't cold hardy enough, unless I use wild roses, which are a pain. (In California, this would have been a honeysuckle, bouganvilla, wisteria climbing roses spot) 4) some no-big-committment perinnials (by that, I mean something easier to dig up than ivy in southern. California) to cover an area of deep shade on north (back) side of house, 15'Dx30'W (In California, this could have been tuberous begonias or fusias) 5) two front flower beds, one light shade, crescent shaped, 15x20x10 feet deep. My neighbor says bleeding heart would do well there, but I don't like it's appearance. The second bed will be full sun, becomeing light shade (?) as the tree above grows. It is rectangular, 20'x 6', south facing, exposed to some high winds fall and winter, and backed up against that elevated wrought-iron porch I want to cover with vines 6) some vegetable varieties that will do well in the short season here. I can start them indoors 7) some grass varieties that will grow here, under whatever trees you recommend 8) some fall bulbs to plant in the flower beds this fall and possibly this spring My budget for this project is $500 for this spring (including soil amendments, but not including labor), and about $150 for bulbs in the fall. Is this realistic? What would you suggest for these areas? HELP! Judy Ann Henry Idaho Falls, ID

Answer: Your first paragraph tells me alot. You've moved from a long, warm growing season to a short, cold growing season! That requires a major gardening knowledge change for you! I suggest you first get to know the owner of that nursery within 20 miles of you. That person is probably going to be the best resource of information on plants that will survive the harsh winters of Idaho. And also a good source for plant material. Look at your neighbors' yards. The plants they have used are good examples of what succeeds in your climate. Learn what a peony and lilac are. You're going to have to learn a whole new set of plants. Is there a local gardening club? You also might contact your local extension agent for lists of plants that are appropriate for your locale. One of the first things you need to do is have your soil tested. Knowing the pH of your soil as well as the type of soil and the mineral content will aid in your choice of plants. I also encourage you to buy your trees locally. If you buy through the mail, you will get bare-root trees and I do not think that they will have a chance to establish themselves as quickly as a balled and burlaped or container grown plant would. This is especially important in your harsh climate. The perennials can be mail ordered but knowing whether or not they will survive is a risk you will be taking. Again, locally bought plants is your best bet. They probably have been grown in your climate and are more likely to survive. The bulbs will probably do alright and can be mail ordered. Any flowering bulb is worth a try but I wouldn't allocate quite so much money the first year. Here are some suggestions for plants. I cannot guarantee that they will survive. For your front yard, try a flowering crab apple. For the back yard, am American Beech or a Norway maple (two of my favorites). the vine...a clematis , but you may have to mulch over the winter. Ferns, hostas or pachasandra for your deep shaded area. For the lightly shaded bed in front...hostas, Golden Marguerite, Columbine, Artemisia, Goatsbeard, etc. The sunny bed...purple coneflower, hardy geranium, blazing star, siberian iris...etc. All these plants are listed as zone 3 cold hardy..

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