Monday, January 15, 2018

Arthritis and Farming

Arthritis and Farming
By Linda Langelo, CSU Horticulture Program Associate
Arthritis is a debilitating disease that afflicts some 54 million citizens in the United States.  This disease does not discriminate across age, gender or race.  Farmers are among the afflicted.  Being a farmer is a massive job where you need your body to be flexible and in minimal pain to farm effectively. This is not to exclude ranchers and gardeners.  Unfortunately, farmers are at a higher risk for arthritis according to the Arthritis Foundation.  Yes, all types of farming operations and farmers can be in this group.  Beyond the main types of farming operations of corn, wheat, millet and potato farms, the photos below demonstrate the varied types of farms which include tree nurseries, watermelon/cantaloupe farms and organic farming just to name a few. 
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit:
Osteoarthritis is the arthritis that most commonly affects farmers and ranchers.  This is when the cartilage –the gliding surface of a joint- is destroyed.  Then, the joint rubs bone on bone creating bony overgrowths called “spurs”.  Osteoarthritis is a heredity disease.  Being overweight can cause this as well.  How?  According to the Arthritis Foundation for every pound you gain adds four pounds of additional stress to your knees.  Worst of all, this translates to six times the pressure on your hips. 
As with gardeners, farmers do frequent heavy lifting and repetitive motions, such as constantly bending and kneeling.  The average age of our farmers in the United States is 58 years.  If those farmers have been bending and kneeling for 30 or 40 of those years, it sets the stage for arthritis.
The best thing to do is go to a doctor or visit a rheumatologist for a correct diagnosis.  Then, there are many options such as exercises which help with strength training, range-of-motion, fitness and endurance.
The Arthritis Foundation states that resting during the day is beneficial.  They also state that a good night’s sleep goes a long way to resting the joints.  Pacing yourself through the day by scheduling and taking breaks.  Changing the type of repetitive motion that you do over a twenty minute period.  This sounds like a lot of work even for a gardener.  It is more about rethinking what you do because you are learning a new habit.  It is not always possible to hire someone or pass tasks along to other members of the family.  Taking the time to rethink and invest in yourself helps you preserve the business you have worked your entire life.  You are worth investing in your health.
If you wish to research more information go to .

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Dormant Oil and Pruning Fruit Trees

This is a tough year.  With dry, warm weather some of our trees are confused.  Many of our fruit trees never really hardened off as reported by our local research station in Grand Junction.  And now many of the buds are swelling on trees in the Grand Valley.   I always tell homeowners to wait to prune their fruit trees later than the commercial orchards so they are closer to spring for the trees to heal.  Growers have to start early due to the sheer volume of pruning they need to do.  And I prefer to spray dormant oil after pruning but this may be one year I decide to do the opposite on my own trees.
Colostate photo-Our goal-Fruit!

I think everyone that growers fruit trees should spray with dormant oil.  This product used to be made from petroleum products but is now usually made from cotton meal seed so it can even be used on organic trees.  Yes, organic trees are sprayed, but that is a whole other article.  This oil is very thick and is only used in winter versus horticulture or summer oils that can be used during the season.  The reason we spray this is to suffocate any insect eggs or overwintering insect adults on the trees to limit pest pressure on the fruit tree in the coming season.  It is an especially good control of aphids.  Make sure the weather is warm enough to spray and that your buds have not broken (not showing any color).  The oil can burn the contents of the bud if open.  Always read the label, it’s the law.  And be sure to cover as much as the tree as possible.  Here is our fact sheet on dormant oil.  It can also be a good control for some insects on ornamental trees as well.

So why do we even prune fruit trees?  Well of course to get better fruit.  Pruning a fruit tree is vastly different than pruning an ornamental or shade tree.  Many of those rules go out the window because with fruit trees you are actually trying to stress them to induce fruiting.  So our goal is to capture enough sun in the fruit tree canopy without sun burning the fruit.  The best shape to do that would be an upside down umbrella.  Now if you do not want to have a tree that looks like an upside down umbrella in your landscape, you can prune to have a central leader with spaced side limbs.  This is an older method of pruning apple trees and cherries also do well with this system of pruning.
Before pruning different types of fruit trees it is important to understand what year wood gives you the fruit.  With peaches the fruit occurs on one year old wood, the new growth from last year.  On apples, it is typically 2nd to 4th year wood but some depends on variety.

With pruning these trees we want to remove 50-60% of the tree if it is young and used to being pruned that way.  Don’t take an old tree and do this, it will stress too much.  Talk to your local agent if you have an older tree.  Here is a link:

Open Center Peach Pruning- Photo by Susan Carter
So young trees have their central leader removed when they have established root systems.  Here is a a diagram from UMN. 

Now back to in their prime trees; when pruning you want to think of the side shoots of the limb together looking like a feather.  So there are very few branches going up or down.  Branches underneath tend not to get enough light and too many branches going in or up can shade other branches and leaves.  But you want a few interior and upright branches to produce future growth and to provide some shade for your trunk and main branches or they may develop sunscald.
There are different types of cuts used to prune fruit trees.  My favorite to help keep the limbs going out instead of up is called a bench cut.  This cut removes the tip of the upward growing branch and brings is back to an outward facing side branch.  This side branch will then become your growing tip and will help keep the height of the tree down and to create that upside down umbrella shape.  Dutch  cuts are vertical cuts that are made on side limbs of mainly apples to induce dormant bud break below.  Something you would never do on an ornamental tree. 
Apple tree with dutch cut- photo by Susan Carter

So to summarize, start pruning and training your fruit trees when young;  Spray with dormant oil prior to bud break;  Don’t  be afraid to remove half the tree yearly;  Know the age of the wood that produces fruit so you don’t remove too much of it. 

Lastly, look for a local training on fruit trees thru Extension.  The Tri River Area offers a fruit tree class as part of their Master Gardener training.  I promise a future article on picking which fruit tree is right for you or should you support the orchards and let them do the labor.  By Susan L. Carter, Horticulture Agent, Tri River Area

Monday, January 8, 2018

How to Save Your Holiday Poinsettia:

Posted by: Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension

The holidays are over, decorations are being put away, Christmas trees are being recycled into mulch…but what about that poinsettia plant?  Should you try and save it for a few months?  Maybe keep it alive until next year?  Or should it be thrown out with the tree?  That choice is one that only you can make, but if you decide to keep it around for a little while longer or even until next year, here are a few tips that can help you be successful in your endeavor.

Hopefully, when you purchased your poinsettia plant, you were careful to get a good specimen; one that had nice dark green leaves, colorful bracts (these are the upper leaves that many people think are flower petals), a tight cluster of yellow flower buds in the center…a real beauty!

See the following article, featuring CSU Floriculture Professor, Steve Newman, offering tips on choosing a good poinsettia plant and keeping it healthy during the holiday season:

With a little extra TLC, your poinsettia plant can keep its colorful bracts for several months and ‘bloom’ again next year. Once the holidays are over, placement of your poinsettia plant will set it up for success. Your poinsettia should remain in a location with plenty of natural light, keeping it away from appliances, drafty areas like a front or back door, heat registers, and far enough away from a window so that its leaves do not touch the glass. Poinsettias prefer temperatures between 60 and 70 ⁰F, so room temperature is ideal.

Throughout the year, you will want to water deeply only when the plant is dry, allowing for the excess water in the pot to drain. Allow the container to dry out before watering again. If you see lower leaves drying up and falling off, you may need to water more often. If those leaves are turning yellow and then dropping, you may be watering it too often. Fertilize your plant every few weeks as needed. Important!...monitor your plant throughout the year for insects such as whitefl, aphids, and fungus gnats – all which can be attracted to poinsettia plants. If you notice a pest, take measures to get it under control promptly.

In late March or early April, your plant may be looking a little sad, but have no fear. It’s time to start shaping the plant and encouraging new growth by cutting back the original stems to a height of 4 to 6 inches, leaving back a few leaves which will allow for additional new shoots to emerge from the nodes of the remaining leaves. You might also see new shoots starting to emerge from the base of the plant. If so, you can encourage their growth by cutting back those older stems which will divert more resources to growing these new shoots, too. You should wear gloves during this process because poinsettias exude a white sap that can cause skin irritations or eye injury.

Two year old poinsettia.

May is a good time to step up your plant into a slightly larger container. Your plant is going to have more shoots and will be larger the following year, so stepping it up will give the roots plenty of room to expand. 

In early June, you will need to encourage some side branching of the stems which may look a little leggy at this point by cutting off the upper 2 to 3 inches of leggy or tall stems, removing the top leaves.

By mid to late June, you should be able to safely move your plant outside in a lightly shaded location. Once outside, you may need to increase the frequency of watering. After a few more weeks (mid July), you can trim the plant again. The last trimming of tall growth should be completed toward the end of August.

Bury the pot in the ground for added stability.
When Labor Day comes in September, it’s time to bring your plant back inside to that bright location in your house. And by mid to late September is the time to think about relocating your plant to a place in your house to condition it to flower…
Poinsettias are a short-day photoperiod plant that naturally start to flower when nights become longer than days (around the time of the Fall Equinox). The shorter days and longer nights signal flower initiation and over the next couple months, usually 8 to 10 weeks, the plant will create the beautiful bracts you see around the holidays. Due to advancements in breeding, many poinsettia varieties on the market today will flower naturally with the length of the night at our latitude and be in full color and bloom right in time for the holidays. However, even a small amount of light during this mandatory dark period can delay this process.

If you want to go the easy route and rely on the natural light and dark cycles, you will need to locate your plant in a spot that gets plenty of light during the day but no supplemental lighting once the sun goes down. If there are streetlights nearby or you flip on the light switch, even for a moment, you could delay or halt the plant’s ability to flower.

However, you can artificially create these long night conditions from late September until you start to see the leaves changing color, usually around the end of November or early December. Everyday, around 5 or 6 pm, cover your plant with a large box that does not allow light to reach the plant or place the plant in a completely dark closet. The next morning around 8 am, remove the box or place the plant back in the light. This will ensure that your plants get at least 14 hours of complete darkness each night and should be repeated for approximately 8 weeks. Once you start to see the bracts changing color, you can stop covering the plant each night.

So there you have it! Sounds easy, right? But, even if it seems intimidating, it might be worth the reward!

My mother-in-law's poinsettia plant is now over 3 years old!
 For more information on the care of poinsettias, see this CSU fact sheet:

Monday, January 1, 2018

Hort Peeves (or a New Year's Resolution?): Stop the Topping!

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

You've heard this before: Stop topping trees! And to be honest, I've seen photos, but I've never really seen the practice, until last week. I've seen plenty of bad pruning jobs, but never topping.
Tree Topping (photo from Northwest Arbor-Culture)
For those unfamiliar with this hideous practice, it's essentially slaughtering the poor tree from the top down, removing large branches and the entire top of the canopy. Some claim it's a "tree haircut" that the tree will grow out of. But no, the tree doesn't "grow out of it" (unlike perms in the 80s) and it always ends up making things worse. Essentially, the trees produces a lot of suckers (water sprouts) that are structurally unsound and prone to damage and breaking. Oh, and the cuts made to do the topping are often large and can lead to disease and insect issues, because the trees can't produce the correct tissues to seal off the wounds.
Water sprout growth following tree topping. All of this growth is structurally unsound and is more susceptible to breakage in storms and can cause tree failure. 
Tree topping is a terrible practice. I should point out that educated and certified arborists never do this. Don't pay someone to do this to your trees.

On the way home from work last week, I saw tree topping in action. I couldn't believe it and immediately pulled my car over to circle back. What I saw was a gentleman in a bright orange shirt hacking his way through a line of trees in his backyard. I cannot be certain if this was a paid service or the homeowner. Regardless, it was horrifying. These trees lined the back fence and were far enough away from the utility lines. The trees didn't deserve this (and it looks like it wasn't the first time they were topped, since I drove by again after the bloodbath).
Yes, I know the dangers of taking photos while driving...I had to do it on the sly. I couldn't stop and just take photos of the man in action!
Here's another shot after zooming in on the photo from the road.
And what do the trees look like after the wrath of a pole pruner? They look awful. And ugly. They do nothing for the landscape. But there's a nice pile of firewood! Oh, and this was done the last week of December 2017...not the most ideal time to prune woody plant material.
Tree topping is wrong. Resolve NEVER to do this.
Let's all make a resolution to stop this practice! It's one that is far easier to accomplish than going to the gym and eating healthier. Happy 2018 fellow horties!

Friday, December 29, 2017

Lawn Winterkill: Lessons from 2016-'17

Tony Koski' Extension Turf Specialist

It’s been a dry fall and early winter throughout most of Colorado – in spite of the recent snow (that’s rapidly disappearing as I write this today). Little precipitation, combined with windy, sunny, and warm days, is a pretty good recipe for some winter turf injury (aka “winterkill”). Throw in some alternating extreme cold with the warm days and things get potentially worse for turf, trees, and shrubs in our landscapes. But not all “winterkill” is the same when it comes to turf. Here are some examples from the spring of 2017 (these were all in April/May) to illustrate that point.

Winter injury from drought – enhanced by VERY thick thatch in this bluegrass lawn. Note that the green turf is where water was supplied by a gutter downspout, runoff from the driveway (plus the concrete acts as a “mulch” for turf growing alongside it), and runoff from the neighbor’s gravel-covered plastic.

This lawn had been sodded in early 2016 and was perfectly green and healthy going into the winter of
Dead area is where home construction had been "staged",
resulting in extreme soil compaction before sodding.
2016. It had been handwatered religiously throughout 2016, was mowed the correct height, and was otherwise perfectly cared for. The problem was the soil under the sod. The dead area was where home construction was “staged”: lumber, roofing, tile, other building supplies were dropped off – along with concentrated, heavy, constant traffic. The soil was not tilled sufficiently prior to sodding, so almost no rooting occurred following sodding. The constant handwatering in 2016 kept it alive and looking perfect, but the lack of rooting during the winter resulted in winter desiccation and sod death in spring 2017.
Sod had not rooted into the compacted soil, which
lead to winter kill in spring 2017.

Winter mite injury
This lawn suffered from turfgrass mite feeding in the late winter and early spring. Mite feeding and reproduction is favored by dry conditions. Drought-stressed turf is often killed by mite feeding in the spring if numbers are high enough and no snowcover or spring rains occur – and if winter watering isn’t performed at least a few times during the winter.

The common thread here? Water! Turf, trees, shrubs, and other landscape plants may not be growing and thus USING much water during the winter. But when it’s dry, windy, sunny, and humidity is low, our landscape plants are LOSING water. When we don’t receive enough snow to provide periods of snow cover during the winter, and plants aren’t mulched (like turf!), are young and not fully established, or have poorly developed root systems, winter watering can be essential for preventing winter injury or death.

When weather allows (above freezing for a day or two), run a hose and sprinkler out to the drier parts of your landscape (especially south- and west-facing parts of your landscape), to new sod, trees, and shrubs, and to areas where you have experienced winter injury in the past (perhaps from turf mites). Apply enough water to moisten the crowns of the turf plants and to get some water into the root zone of new trees and shrubs. The goal isn’t deep watering, but rather to prevent desiccation of crowns and young root systems.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The United States Botanic Garden Conservatory: Holiday Displays

Posted by: Yvette Henson, San Miguel County

For the 2014 Thanksgiving Holiday, my husband and I went to Washington DC to spend time with our youngest daughter who was doing an internship as part of her universities degree requirements.  While we were there we visited the US Botanic Gardens Conservatory.

In the conservatory Garden Court they had a display of Washington DC Landmarks made from all natural materials such as leaves, seeds, bark, fungi, etc.  I was totally blown away and forever inspired.  Here are pictures of a few of them.  (Keep in mind these pictures were taken with my iphone in 2014.)

US Capital

Lincoln Memorial

Smithsonian Castle

White House

2014 Garden Court Christmas Tree 
(surrounded by buildings made from all natural materials)

Just for fun I've included 2 photos from the Conservatory Model Train Display that was also part of the 2014 US Botanic Gardens  Conservatory holiday display.

Conservatory Model Train Track 

Fairy House 

I was so inspired by these beautiful displays that I started making fairy houses made of all natural materials with my granddaughter.  Ours don’t even approach the intricate detail of these made for display at our National Garden but they sure are fun! 

For more information on The Plant Based D.C. Landmarks at the United States Botanic Garden Conservatory go to this link 

This year the Conservatory is featuring a display of replicas of U.S. Roadside Attractions made out of all natural materials.

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Leaf Musings

Posted by: Mary Small - State Master Gardener Coordinator

Leaves accumulating in front walk next to garage (r)
“I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree…” I reminded myself during a fall leaf cleanup. And yes, trees are wonderful, but I could do with a few less leaves in the front walk every year. The picture on the right greets me every couple of weeks during the fall months. Every fall.  It’s worse when the weather is windy. And lest you think the front steps are not affected -I swept them off before I thought to take the picture.
Instead of continuing to wonder why the neighborhood leaves end up in my front walk, I did a bit of research. Now, I’m not an engineer, but here’s what I understand. The wind hits the windward end of the garage and flows up over the roof and around the front (side) of the garage. Suction is created on the side wall of the garage and on the leeward side of the garage– which is where the front walk is located!
So that explains (at least in part) why leaves get “sucked into” the front walk. And it also explains why leaves get sucked into the garage when it's windy and the doors are open – like when you’re putting the car in it!

While cleaning up this batch of leaves, I wondered what species were filling up the walkway, since we only have one tree in the front yard. Digging through the pile I found about 10 different kinds of leaves.  Our tree could have been the source of the bur oak leaves (brown, far right). The nearest ornamental pear trees (bottom center) are 4 houses to the north and should have had plenty of opportunity to bother someone else before they arrived on my doorstep. There are numerous aspen (lower right, brown) across the street in at least 3 yards. The nearest cottonwood (upper left, brown) is at least three blocks away. I have no idea where the maple or red oak are located.

I next re-sorted the leaves. Look at the gorgeous anthocyanin pigments in the three beauties on the left and right.The pigments are present all year, but we only get to see them when chlorophyll – the green pigment- is no longer produced in the leaves. This happens in response to decreasing daylength and other factors as we approach fall.
Finally, I just had to put this mighty cottonwood leaf next to its more diminutive aspen relative.

I ended this work session thinking that tree leaves are really cool. (Remind me I said that in a couple weeks…)