Home on the Range

Home on the Range

You’d better be Ready because life here can be Rough!

Windmill
Windmill shimmering in heatwaves

If you’re not originally from eastern Colorado, you’ll find there’s a lot to learn about this place as you settle in. To get you started, I’ll tell you a few of the key pieces of information I’ve learned:

  • If you’re in eastern El Paso or Lincoln County or thereabouts, most of the blizzards and the highest winds come from the north northwest. Those highest winds, by the way, have topped 100 miles per hour once or twice. Typical winter storm wind speed is about 45 mph. They might get to 70s or 80s once in a while. You’re not likely to have patio furniture sitting around, no umbrella tables, and tie up your trash cans.
  • Summer winds used to come mostly from the southwest; in recent years they’ve been more erratic.
  • Face most of your doors to the east and south; avoid doors opening to the north, if possible.
  • Use screws instead of nails for exterior construction. Screws are harder for the wind to pull out. Instead, though, vibrations from the wind may cause the heads of the screws to either wear a hole larger than the head in whatever they’re fastening so it pops loose, or the heads eventually break off the screw altogether. Regular maintenance may be required.
  • When winter snow is forecast for “the Palmer Divide” or “Palmer Ridge” it may follow the high ground around to the southeast toward Rush.
  • Don’t use any kind of siding or roofing that hail can go through. No vinyl siding, for example. The Hardie board siding, reportedly a mix of concrete and fiberglass, does well.
  • Don’t crowd your driveway with anything. You’ll need plenty of room for snow removal. If you’re thinking ahead, you won’t put drift-causing things to the north of your driveway in the first place. Or anywhere near it, unless you’re prepared to dig out the hard-packed snow drifts.
  • Keep enough food at home to last you more than three days. At least a week or two would be better. Sometimes we get snowed in for a while. That includes the highways becoming impassable. “Impassable” is not just a safety term – it means they’re drifted so deeply that even a regular snowplow can’t get through. “Impassable” doesn’t just mean it’s not safe to drive there – it means it’s a physical impossibility.
  • A lot of plants that grow in a city or town won’t grow out in the open prairie. Those that do grow here may be shorter than in town.
  • We’ll get into the issue of what will grow out here and what won’t at another time. In the meantime, if you need to know about a particular tree or shrub, feel free to ask. I’d start with Rocky Mountain Juniper as your new favorite evergreen tree and Sea Green Juniper as your favorite evergreen shrub. Golden current, Native American Plum, New Mexico privet (forestiera), and rhus trilobata, aka skunkbush among other names, are the go-to deciduous shrubs. Birds like to eat the currents, which are nearly black – golden refers to the color of the flowers rather than the fruit. American Robins love the fruit of the rhus trilobata, and it’s one of the toughest, hardiest, most drought-tolerant deciduous shrubs I’ve found; New Mexican privet or forestiera is the other. Coyotes eat the plums, and you may find little piles of pits that have exited a coyote’s digestive tract. The plums may also make a nice jelly or preserve. Lilacs and crabapple trees can do well in certain locations. If you have a choice between Austrian Pine and Ponderosa Pine, go with the Ponderosa. Maybe even Pinion Pine. Forget the Loblolly or anything else that grows at high mountain elevations. If you need a rose, first choices are woods rose and rugosa roses. Maybe rosa rubrifolia (red-leafed rose), briar rose, or own-root shrub roses if sheltered and given supplemental water. You can grow honeysuckle against a building – both bushes and vines – but the vines may experience winter kill in some years. The flowers on the vines attract both hummingbirds and little hummingbird moths, this latter also being seen feeding from the flowers sometimes at night. Any deciduous tree other than Siberian Elm is going to need supplemental watering, and preferably some shelter from the wind. Don’t bother with hackberry or burr oak. We’ll discuss maples at another time, after I refresh my memory whether it’s the acer truncatum or another acer that grows here with shelter and supplemental water. No sugar maples; no Norway maples; not even an Autumn Blaze. Silver maples grow in town, and I’ve seen one or two in someone’s yard out here in the prairie, but I’ve never gotten them to grow here. There’s a “line” somewhere between Big Springs Road and Judge Orr Road, south of which a few kinds of cacti, including prickly pear, grow wild among the grasses and forbs across the fields. Trees and shrubs that won’t want to grow there might grow north of that line where there’s more precipitation and fewer (if any) cacti.
  • If you want to read more about what will grow out here and where, this site has a blog article for that here: https://www.theothercolorado.life/2022/05/05/one-gardners-trash-is-another-gardners-treasure/

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