Category Archives: Blogs

Plants that Repel Mosquitos



With all the rain Stapleton has had last fall and this year, there is a lot of concern about mosquitos.  Don’t spend our short but glorious summers being held captive inside by mosquitos.  Oils found in certain types of plants, especially herbs, are natural mosquito deterrents that will help keep your garden mosquito-free.  You can place them in pots or in the ground to create mosquito free zones and/or make your own natural repellant by crushing the leaves with a mortar and pestle to release the oils and then adding it to vodka, another mosquito repellant.  Let the mixture sit for 12 hours.  Once infused, add your natural repellent to a spray bottle and use as you would any store-bought mosquito repellent. Continue reading

WHEN TO PRUNE (Continued from How to Prune)

If pruning is necessary, you can do light, corrective pruning any time of the year.  More severe pruning of most deciduous trees and non-blooming shrubs should be done during their dormancy in the late winter to early spring before they leaf out.  Insects and disease spores are less likely to infest pruning cuts during this time.  This is especially important for fruit trees that are vulnerable to fireblight.  It is also easier to see the plant’s form when it is without leaves.   In spring to early summer, energy reserves are being used for new growth and heavy pruning can weaken a tree or shrub.  By late summer and early fall, plants begin storing their energy reserves in their roots to use in dormancy for next season’s spring growth.  Pruning should be limited during this time since it may encourage new growth that would not have time to mature before being subjected to freezing temperatures.   By late fall after they have lost their leaves and there have been several hard freezes, more of the energy reserves are in their roots and there is less stress on the plant.

Continue reading

HOW TO PRUNE (Continued from Why Prune)

Pruning shouldn't be noticed HTprune2

“A good pruning job is like a good haircut.  It should hardly be noticed at all.”


Many shrubs will look their best when allowed to grow to their natural form with just occasional pruning of dead, damaged or diseased wood.  Avoid making cuts at a uniform edge creating a round ball or other unnatural shape or across the top of a shrub.   This is a Continue reading


If a plant is planted in the right place, minimal pruning will be required.  People often don’t do their research on a plant’s mature size and plant it in a space that is not big enough.  Windows may become covered or paths or gates may become obstructed by growth.  Furthermore, plants can be placed too close together by those in search of instant gratification and a full look.  A few years later, the plants have to either be drastically pruned or removed.   Over time, excessive pruning weakens and disfigures shrubs and results in a lot of unnecessary work and yard waste.
Overgrowth can block windows or take over an area.Research a plant’s mature size and plant it in a space that is big enough.

However, If you have selected a plant whose mature size fits its location, there are several reasons when pruning is appropriate. Continue reading

Urban Gardens, Inc. Wins a 2013 CARE Award

PR picUrban Gardens, Inc., a landscape design and consulting firm located in Denver, Colorado and owned and operated by Sarah Christian, won a 2013 CARE Award.  Sponsored by the Homebuilder’s Association of Metro Denver, the Colorado Awards for Remodeling Excellence, known as the CARE awards, are the largest and longest running contest recognizing remodeling of all types, including both commercial and residential projects.  Categories are numerous and include kitchens, bathrooms, landscape, green building, and much more. CARE awards are judged blind by local volunteers, making it a fair competition that recognizes excellence in remodeling, no matter the authorship. Continue reading

Dog Urine Damage to Lawns

Summarized from CSU Extension Service, Garden Note #553

Damage to lawns from dog urine is a common problem in urban landscapes and the smaller the yard, the greater the impact – yet the causes and cures are frequently misunderstood. Many urban legends have cropped up, leading to the development of commercial products and the use of home remedies. As a responsible pet owner and an informed consumer, you should be aware of both the true causes and the solutions that actually work and are safe for your dog.

“Dog spots” are caused by high concentrations of nitrogen and salts deposited on a small area of lawn causing injury or death to that area. Some common urban legends about dog urine damage to lawns are: Continue reading

Alternatives to Lawn

Why replace your lawn?

People usually replace their lawns for either maintenance or environmental reasons. The costs of lawn maintenance include fuel for power mowers, toxic emissions, fertilizers and pesticides, water consumption and your weekend time. Hiring a lawn care service will save you time and energy but the environmental costs remain.

According to GIMME GREEN, a documentary that examines the American obsession with the residential lawn:

  • Lawns are America’s most irrigated crop.images
  • American’s spend more than 40 billion dollars a year on their yards.
  • Americans apply more than 30,000 tons of pesticides to their yards every year.
  • Of the 30 most used lawn pesticides, 17 are routinely detected in groundwater.
  • The EPA finds that nearly half of these 30 pesticides are possible or probably carcinogens.
  • The National Cancer Institute finds that children in households using lawn pesticides have 6.5 times greater risk of developing leukemia.
  • In order to maintain all the lawns in America, it would take approximately 200 gallons per person per day.
  • If present consumption patterns continue, two out of every three people on earth will live in water-stressed conditions by the year 2025.

Yet even those who object to lawns from a maintenance or environmental standpoint acknowledge that lawns can contribute to the beauty of a landscape. John Greenlee, author of The American Meadow Garden said, “I understand what design purpose a lawn serves. It’s a cool, simple panel that allows your eye to rest. It doesn’t have the cacophony of a perennial border, and so I get what that does, but at what expense to the environment?”

Alternatives to Lawn

Homeowners sometimes decide to replace lawns that are difficult to maintain in steep, shady, or difficult to access areas and on poorly drained or compacted soil. If you have one of these problem areas or want to reduce or eliminate your lawn for environmental reasons, here are some alternatives.

Groundcovers & Pavers

Groundcovers and/or pavers are a great low-maintenance solution for small areas like side yards and narrow strips between the sidewalk and street.


Landscape choices on public right-of-ways may be restricted by municipal codes and regulations so consult with your local municipality or homeowners associations before beginning work. Neighboring landscapes should also be considered so your design is consistent with the neighborhood streetscape concept. Keep plantings as low to the ground and maintenance free as possible. Mimic the look of grass with massings of groundcovers or short ornamental grasses. Here are three examples of plantings that coordinate well with the front yard plantings while still being consistent with a streetscape concept.

A mix of perennials like shown here would be better placed on the inside of the sidewalk so as not to obstruct views and to maintain a consistent streetscape.


Groundcovers placed between pavers should be low to the ground and capable of handling some foot traffic. Some to consider include: For Shade: Scotch or Irish Moss, Golden Moneywort, Creeping Veronica. For Part-Shade: Moneywort, Crystal River Veronica. For Sun: Sedums, Moneywort, Mother of Thyme, Dwarf Creeping Thyme, Woolly Thyme, Crystal River Veronica, Turkish Veronica.


Hardscape is the term used to describe the part of the landscape that consists of structures made with hard, non-living materials such as patios, retaining walls, and walkways. Hardscape can be non-permeable such as a concrete patio or permeable such as a brick patio set in sand or a gravel path. It can be used to give a traditional or contemporary look or to convey any style you wish. Outdoor hardscape spaces can be great places for outdoor sitting, dining, and entertaining. Here are some great examples of how hardscape can be used to make an inviting outdoor extension of your home by reducing or eliminating lawn:


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Front Entries

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No-Mow Grasses

If the beauty of green grass in the landscape is something you just can’t let go of, you can reduce the size of your lawn. You can also consider no-mow grasses that are more environmentally friendly and easier to care for. Lawn alternatives can range from ground covering plants to non-traditional grasses to synthetic grasses.

Groundcovering Plants – There are many plants that are good lawn alternatives depending on the conditions and functions of the area. Thyme and clover are two. The low growing thyme (left) is a xeric groundcover. Clover lawns (center) require less water, fewer mowings, no fertilizer, and stay green longer than traditional grass. Groundcovers can also be used in shady areas or under trees, where it is difficult to get grass to grow. Vinca (right), Sweet Woodruff, and Lamium are good choices for this.


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Vinca photo: Credit: “Ground Cover,” © 2008 Peter Smithy

Non-traditional Grasses – The three most common drought tolerant grasses for Colorado are fescue, buffalograss and bluegramma. All require about half the water of Kentucky Bluegrass once established and have minimal mowing and fertilizer needs. In determining which type of grass to go with, you should consider whether they can be grown in sun or shade, their tolerance for heat and cold, susceptibility to disease, how well they tolerate foot traffic, how long they take to establish, and their maintenance requirements. Be aware of both their strong points and their shortcomings because there is no perfect grass!

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Synthetic Grasses –

Synthetic Grasses – Artificial grass, usually made of polyethylene plastic grass and a base of recycled tires, was originally designed for sports fields but has become more popular for home use. It can be appealing because it has lower maintenance costs and is more durable than natural grass, is pesticide free and saves water. However, it absorbs heat, has a limited life, requires periodic cleaning, uses petroleum in the manufacturing process, may contain toxic chemicals, and has some health and safety concerns. If artificial grass is installed and removed, it takes years of soil remediation to grow anything on that surface because the plastic kills any living organism in the subsoil. Physical and environmental health risks aside, children are becoming more alienated from nature and synthetic grass does nothing to further this important connection.

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If you are inspired, there are many alternatives to traditional lawns that require less time, energy and environmental cost to maintain. If nothing else, you can look for ways to reduce the amount of lawn you have and enjoy the public lawns of our parks and open spaces for larger space uses. Regardless of the balance you strike, it is possible to have a lovely space that you and your family can enjoy and be proud of.


Five No-Mow, No-Fuss Lawn Alternatives, by Deena Bustillo, Lawn Alternatives

Turf Wars: Pros & Cons of Artificial Turf, by Lindsay Barton

About Urban Gardens, Inc.:

Urban Gardens provides landscape design and consulting services to residential clients whose projects range from historic renovations to new subdivisions with a blank slate. Sarah Christian owns and operates Urban Gardens in the internationally recognized Stapleton Development in Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Colorado at Denver in 1995 and has worked in Colorado since that time. She is licensed by the state of Colorado and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. You can visit her web page at

We Are Featured on


Have you heard the news? Urban Gardens, Inc., a landscape design and consulting firm located in Denver, Colorado and owned and operated by Sarah Christian, is now featured on The new profile can be viewed at Called the “Wikipedia of interior and exterior design” by CNN, Houzz has the largest database of interior and exterior home design ideas on the internet, with over 1 million images of professionally designed homes and 12 million monthly users. Photos can be browsed by style such as Mediterranean or Contemporary and geographic location or searched by design element such as pergola or sandstone patio and saved to virtual ideabooks. It’s the equivalent of clipping design magazines to a scrapbook making ideas easier to search, save and share. Houzz is also an online community with articles written by the design community, product recommendations, and a user forum. is available as a free iPad app as well. According to the New York Times it is “one of the rare nongaming apps with an average iTunes rating of five stars, after thousands of reviews, and the ratings are well deserved.”

Photos of Urban Gardens’s featured projects are now being added to user’s ideabooks, questions are being asked about the projects, and the company is being searched as a local professional. Additionally, when clients work with Urban Gardens, both the client and Urban Gardens may share their ideabooks with each other. Sarah Christian, Owner of Urban Gardens, Inc. shared her enthusiasm about Houzz and said “Having the images to refer to helps clients articulate more clearly their likes and dislikes which results in a better end product. A picture is worth a thousand words.” Homeowners also seem to be enthusiastic about Houzz. …To read more, click here to view official press release.

Preventing and Controlling Weeds


Excluding the handful of people who find weeding cathartic, most of us would prefer to spend our time outside doing something other than weeding. Yet whether we enjoy weeding or not, most find it a necessary chore. There are two strategies for dealing with weeds. One is to try to prevent or at least minimize weeds in your lawn and garden beds, the other is to remove and control weeds once they take up residence.


Prevention keeps weeds from occurring or increasing in your yard. When installing lawn, make sure you purchase sod from local growers that grow weed-free sod or seed from local companies that sell nothing but seed and make sure the label indicates that it is 100 percent weed-free. Most retail seed mixtures will contain some weed seed. Once your lawn is established, the best defense against weeds is a lawn that is healthy, dense and actively growing.

Many weeds thrive in lawns where there is insufficient nitrogen because they need less nitrogen than grass. Some of the weeds that like these conditions include white clover, black medic, dandelion and crabgrass.

There are several factors in keeping your lawn healthy. Water properly, in the late evening or early morning avoiding frequent shallow watering and using the frequency and duration recommendations of the Denver Water Board which will vary from month to month. Mow bluegrass lawns to a minimum height of two to three inches. Aerate in the spring and apply a pre-emergence herbicide. The herbicide must be applied in March to early April before weeds emerge or the product will be ineffective.

Lastly, apply a nitrogen fertilizer. A light fertilizer can be applied in the spring but fall is the best time and a heavier fertilizer should be applied at that time. In your garden beds, weeds can be minimized with weed barrier fabric and mulch which limits light required for annual weed growth.


Weeds should be removed from your yard so they will not reoccur. It’s important to know there are different control methods for different types of weeds as they all have different growth patterns, reproduction patterns, food storage and even root systems. Hand weeding is effective with small annual weeds if done before flowering but it is generally not effective with perennial weeds because a large part of the root remains in the soil and quickly regenerates another top.

Use chemicals only on individual weeds as liquid spot treatment is more effective and environmentally friendly than “weed and feed” type applications that are applied to the entire lawn. When applying liquid chemicals to weeds with a sprayer, spray just until the foliage is moist. Dry granular formulations should be applied to wet grass and weeds. Use herbicides when temperatures are above 65 and not expected to rise above 85 degrees within 24 hours of application. Spray weeds when there is little or no wind to minimize the danger of herbicide drift and avoid watering for 24 hours after application. Broadleaf weed killer should be used for broadleaf weeds. Roundup® is an effective weed grass killer but it will kill both the weed grasses and lawn so it should be used only to spot-spray individual patches of undesirable grasses. After weeds have been removed, you should re-seed or sod the empty space to prevent another weed infestation and any soil left exposed in garden beds should be remulched.

In spite of our best efforts, some weeds will still occur. Some species are very aggressive and can be resistant to the herbicides we use. Perennial weeds are some of the most difficult to control but are most effectively controlled with a late summer/early fall herbicide application when they are green and actively growing. Herbicide mixtures, containing three or four different herbicides, often provide better control of difficult weeds. Identifying the type of weed is key to selecting the most effective herbicide product.

There are also some organic methods available such as corn gluten meal which can be used as an organic pre-emergent herbicide with fertilizer to suppress seed germination and help green up your lawn. Vinegar can be used to kill weeds but will also kill lawn and require repeated applications. Boiling water from a tea kettle will kill annual weeds and kill or control perennial weeds.

. . .



“A man’s children and his garden both reflect the amount of weeding done during the growing season.” – Unknown



“Weed Management for Pros”, by Dr. Tony Koski

CSU, No. 3.101: “Control of AnnualGrassy Weeds in Lawns”
Plantalk Colorado, No. 1525: “Controlling Broadleaf Weeds in Lawns”
Plantalk Colorado, No. 1530: “Controlling Weedy Grasses in Lawns”

About Urban Gardens, Inc.:

Urban Gardens provides landscape design and consulting services to residential clients whose projects range from historic renovations to new subdivisions with a blank slate. Sarah Christian owns and operates Urban Gardens in the internationally recognized Stapleton Development in Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Colorado at Denver in 1995 and has worked in Colorado since that time. She is licensed by the state of Colorado and is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects. You can visit her webpage at