Thursday, September 22, 2016

The case for not cutting back perennials in the fall

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

Fall is in the air – it is glorious up here in the high country right now with all of the aspen exploding into gold. 
Aspen near the Gilpin Extension office in September

Many gardeners start to think about fall gardening chores.  Pruning back perennials is on many lists, but I would argue that with a couple of exceptions, it’s better to leave them standing until spring. 
Let’s get the exceptions out of the way first:  if you have a plant that produces too many seeds, and it’s starting to take over your garden, cutting back the seed heads before they ripen is a good way to practice plant birth control.  The second reason is if the plant is diseased or infested – pruning back and disposing of this material may prevent further spread in the future.

And now for the case for NOT cutting back perennials and ornamental grasses:

           1. Winter interest.  Colorado has a long winter, and seed heads break up the monotony by catching the snow and the frost in interesting ways.  Many ornamental grasses provide excellent interest all winter (little bluestem is a standout with its rusty-red foliage all winter long).
Rabbit brush has interesting seed heads all winter

Ornamental grasses can provide great winter interest (Little bluestem has the russet foliage)  Photo courtesy Jim Tolstrup, High Plains Environmental Center

2        2. Free bird seed.  Many perennials (particularly coneflowers, Black-eyed Susans and sunflowers, but also some ornamental grasses and even some annuals like cosmos and bachelor’s buttons) attract flocks of birds in the fall and early winter.  Sometimes, they are so voracious that they can limit the number of seeds that fall to the ground (I have to replant Black-eyed Susans nearly every year, because the pine siskins do such a thorough job of eating the seed heads).
Seed heads of Black-eyed Susan provide seed for finches

          3. Future butterflies.  If you planted host plants for butterflies (on purpose or inadvertently), you might accidentally remove overwintering eggs and reduce the butterfly population next summer.

4      4. Extra moisture. Standing plants can help to catch any small skiff of snow, providing extra moisture to the plants.
Standing stalks catch skiffs of snow

5      5. Improved hardiness.  The old foliage can provide some extra insulation (especially with snow on top), helping marginally hardy plants make it through the winter.

There are enough other chores to do in the fall – why not let this one wait until spring?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Delicious Jams and Jellies?

By Curtis Utley

Like Gru, I too have failed at producing a palatable product. This past weekend I attended my friends’ fall harvest party where all attendees are encouraged to bring a sample of their garden tomato bounty to enter into a grand taste test.  Each person votes for his or her favorite tomato. My friends also roll out their cider press and attendees are welcome to bring apples to crush and press into juice. I love apples and this year I had a bumper crop of Honeycrisp apples that I brought to the party for pressing.
My goal was to produce enough juice to try my hand at making Apple jelly. Apples are loaded will pectin, the gelling agent used to create a soft spreadable fruit preserve, so the recipe for apple jelly consists of two ingredients: 4 cups apple juice and 3 cups sugar. Other than dried fruit, very few things in the processed food realm are that simple.
Hard apple candy on waxed paper, Not apple jelly in a jar 

Unfortunately, getting these two ingredients to magically turn into a soft spreadable jelly takes some kitchen wizardry I have yet to master. The goal is to heat the simple mixture to a rapid boil for a period of time long enough to activate the pectin – to the gelling point. At this point, the jelly is processed in a water bath canner and the cooled product firms up. In my first attempt I produced apple flavored hard candy. In my second attempt I produced a VERY sweet shelf-stable apple juice.  Oh well, better luck next year, and maybe I’ll add in the optional third ingredient, lemon juice.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Is your maple looking a little (or maybe very) yellow?

Is your maple looking a little yellow?  It’s possible that it is experiencing an iron deficiency. Red maple and the freeman type maples (of which autumn blaze maple is the most common) as well as red oak and several other species of trees common to our area are all prone to iron deficiencies in alkaline soils (soils with a high pH) like those common to Colorado’s Front Range.    

        Chloroctic Freeman type maple
These trees struggle to take up iron  (as well as other micronutrients such as zinc and molybdenum) from our soils even though there is normally plenty of iron in the soil.  Under high pH conditions iron tends to be insoluble forms that are more difficult for plants to absorb.  Some plants have evolved mechanisms to overcome this difficulty, however, other species, like the maples listed above, have not. This is likely because they had no need as these species are natives to the eastern portions of the continent where soils generally have a lower pH (in fact sometimes too low) and would gain no great advantage from having evolved specialized and energy intensive iron uptake mechanisms.  Cultural factors may also lead to or worsen the issue by making iron less available or hindering root growth. Such factors include soil compaction and over watering both or which lower soil oxygen levels.

Chlorotic leaves which are beginning to scorch
So how do you know your tree has a deficiency?  Symptoms of iron deficiency are chlorosis (yellowing) of leaves and in severe cases scorching or even premature dropping of leaves.   Iron is not very mobile within a plant so symptoms are worse on the newer leaves. In simple terms the plant uses the iron it has in the first leaves and runs out so the leaves produced later tend to be more chlorotic. Symptoms also tend to get worse as the season goes on, though in really bad or very far along cases plants may be chlorotic even early in the season. If deficiencies are prolonged they will lead to the decline of the tree and eventually its death. 
Freeman type maple in decline due to prolonged micronutrient deficiency 

The best way to deal with this issue is to avoid planting species which are intolerant of our soils.  However, there are several potential treatments.  You can have an arborist inject an iron solution into the trunk of the tree every few years to deal with the issue. However each time you do this you are wounding the tree which creates potential avenues for decay and is generally stressful for the tree.  You can also apply a chelated iron fertilizer.  These products consist of iron bound up in organic molecules which are stable in our soil. Make sure to use products labeled as EDDHA. There are many types and this is type is best for our high pH soils. These are somewhat expensive and need to be applied annually or near annually depending on the severity of the deficiency . Foliar applications of iron are also a possible treatment but they have their own list of drawbacks.  They only green the leaves they are sprayed on so improper application can lead to the tree appearing striped.  They can also stain driveways, sidewalks, patios and other elements of the landscape.  Foliar iron fertilizers will need to be applied annually.  Since it is possible that spring time over watering or issues creating stress for the plant such as soil compaction and girdling roots may be aggravating the issue. Make sure you watch your watering and if possible core aerate around the tree.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Yuma Jail Garden Teaches Life Lessons

Posted by: Linda Langelo, Golden Plains Area

(Written by Mallory Gruben of the Yuma Pioneer)
Yuma County Jail Garden
An orange-clad inmate from the Yuma County Jail leans down to inspect a leafy watermelon plant.

“Do you see that back there?” he asks, pointing to a watermelon that just about the size of a quarter.  “Here’s another one.  There’s a lot of them growing; right here is another set.” 

Laurie Clemons, jail programs coordinator, smiles and replies, “If we get them big enough and they ripen out, I could work that over in the inmate kitchen and slice that up for you guys, and let you sit at the picnic tables and have that as a treat.”

The pair, inmate and officer, are tending to the inmate garden just across the street from the county courthouse.  For almost three hours each day — with the exception of the days when Clemons is unavailable to oversee the outdoor activities — the male inmate steps out of the jail and into the role of gardener.

Inmate gardens have recently become commonalities in correctional facilities throughout the nation, including big name facilities like Riker’s Island.  This year Yuma County joined the roster as one of the facilities to offer inmates the chance to grow produce while serving their sentence. 

“What’s unique about us is that there aren’t any facilities of our size that are doing things like this,” said Sheriff Chad Day.  “While there is some risk involved, I firmly believe that it’s worth those risks to try and see if it can work.”

The garden officially took root on Memorial Day under the command of Clemons.  Two female inmates who were residing in the county jail at the time were cleared to help pilot the program.  With the help of Colorado State University (CSU) curriculum, generous donations from Baldwin Tree Services and Ace Hardware and hours of labor by the inmates, what was previously a sandbur-ridden area transformed into a thriving garden, all at no cost to the taxpayers.

“We literally started with dirt, and they worked a solid 10-hour day and planted the entire garden,” Clemons said.  “They even designed an American flag flower bed.  They didn’t have perfect red, white and blue flowers, but when you go out there and look at it you can see it. And it was a decision they exercised control over to bring a little beauty into the world.”

Encouraging positive and controlled decision-making plays a large role in the garden’s function at the jail. The garden serves as a complement to a program installed by the sheriff’s department to help inmates learn to make better decisions. 

“We wanted a more productive use of the inmates’ time, and we wanted something educational, so the first place the sheriff wanted to start is a class called Moral Recognition Therapy (MRT),” Clemons said.  “Essentially what MRT does as a class is it makes people look at their last decisions that led them to the place that they are — which is a bad place — and then makes them choose to take responsibility for their actions to change their future.  It teaches reflection, accountability and greater decision-making skills.”

In its entirety, MRT focuses on reducing recidivism to hopefully prevent an inmate’s return to jail once they are released.   The inmate garden is not directly incorporated into the MRT program, but it offers a metaphor that reiterates the program’s overall message.  Inmates learn to make better choices, weed out their problems and nurture new, positive growth in their lives while literally weeding out the garden and nurturing new growth on the plants.

But the inmate garden is about more than just the metaphor.  It also provides inmates with the chance to gain real life skills that can positively impact their lives.

“We wanted something hands on to drive the message [of MRT] home, and we landed on the concept of a garden,” Clemons said. “We started talking with CSU and it turned into a master gardener certification class.  If the inmates go all the way through the class, they walk out with a certificate that says they learned how to be a successful gardener, which we feel is a valuable life skill.”

These certifications reiterate the true mission of the project.

“The purpose of the program has very little to do with the actual produce that comes from [the garden].  The purpose of the program is about finding ways to give inmates tools to be productive when they are not in jail and to not come back to jail,” Day said.

Many recent studies have found that inmate garden programs are successful in the long-term at lowering the recidivism rates for facilities that use them, but Clemons hopes to offer the inmates an immediate pay off, as well. She is looking into ways that will allow the sheriff’s department to use the produce grown in the garden for the meals made in the facility’s kitchen. 

“Using our own home grown produce reduces the cost of running the kitchen just a little bit, so that saves taxpayers in Yuma County dollars,” Clemons said.  “It improves the quality of the meals for the inmates, and they get to go through the full circle experience of reaping the rewards of their labors.”

Even if the produce is not used within the jail, it will not go to waste.  According to Clemons and Day, if the garden’s yield cannot be incorporated into the inmates’ meals, the department will look into ways of donating the fresh veggies back to the community for those in need.

Because the garden is located outside of the jail and public safety is of concern, not all inmates are allowed to work there.  An inmate is cleared to leave the jail under Clemons’s strict supervision only if the department classifies them as low risk, non-threatening and unlikely to try to run away.

So far, three inmates have been approved to work in the garden.  The first two gardeners were the female inmates that completed the planting, and now a male inmate looks after the crops. 
“It improves my morale.  It gives me something to look forward to everyday, and it’s something else to focus on besides my anger and frustrations about what I’ve done,” the male inmate said.  “It’s good to have something to do, and I thank Laurie and the sheriff’s department for choosing me to do this.”

The inmates are not the only ones with positive feedback about the garden.  According to Day, many of the deputies report that the garden — and other similar MRT-related programs — has seemed to change the environment within the jail for the better.  Some deputies even noted that many inmates have been behaving better in what seems to be hopes of being cleared to work in the garden.

Courthouse staff members also regard the garden as beneficial, praising the sheriff department’s ability to get inmates working instead of sitting around for most of the day.

“It’s been nice to look outside, see Laurie out there and see that they’re actually doing something with the inmates,” said Cindy Taylor, county assessor.  “I’m just so impressed that they are doing something, and it gives the inmates something to look forward to.” 

Back in the garden, the inmate walks alongside his crop.  He stops momentarily to pull back the leaves of a pumpkin plant, revealing a small squash just beginning to take on an orange hue. 

“I’m really excited about passing out pumpkins at the courthouse.  Wouldn’t it be cool if we send home pumpkins with staff members who have small kids?” Clemons says. 

The inmate smiles briefly at the thought of the small pumpkin’s future before resuming his garden chores.  There’s still some work to be done. 

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Clouds of Lawn Moths

Tony Koski
Extension Turf Specialist

Vagabond crambus, a species of sod webworm
The past few days have brought numerous questions about “clouds” of moths in lawns and congregations of them on the exterior of homes – often near doors and windows. Our CSU entomologist, Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, has identified them as the vagabond crambus (Agriphila vulgivagella), one of about 6 different species of sod webworm that can occur in Colorado lawns. While it is not uncommon to see large numbers of this moth flitting about lawns in September, the numbers in the past few days are extraordinary. Although nowhere near as annoying as the miller moths we see in the spring, the large numbers have caused great consternation for more than a few people – including Alison O’Connor (one of our frequent bloggers here), who likened the invasion in her landscape to the super creepy Alfred Hitchcock movie, ‘The Birds’.

Moths congregating around Alison's front door!
Before you run out and begin applying insecticide to your lawns, this species of lawn moth is not a damaging one – compared to the “regular” sod webworm and the related cranberry girdler (aka, subterranean sod webworm).  The large numbers now are “not a prognosticator of the future, but a reflection of the past, in terms of larval populations and turf injury”, according to Whitney. In other words, there were A LOT of the larvae feeding in lawns a month ago in order to have this many adults flying now. If they didn’t cause noticeable damage then, it is unlikely that they will cause damage in the next month as well.

Adult moths are laying eggs, but lawn damage will not
be noticeable from this sod webworm species.
Healthy, growing lawns are highly unlikely to suffer damage from this insect, so avoid the temptation to run out and apply an insecticide to your lawn. The moths appear to be dying quickly, as evidenced by the large numbers you can find on sidewalks and streets. Insecticide applications have NO EFFECT on the adult moths, so it would be an unwise misuse (and waste of time and money) to apply something to your lawns hoping to make the moths go away. Their numbers should decline rapidly in the next week.

While perhaps bothersome and somewhat creepy, luckily the moths are much smaller and nowhere near as aggressive as were the birds in Hitchcock’s movie.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Fall is Coming!

Rudbeckia triloba, Tri River Gardens, Photo by SL Carter

To some people, fall might be a four letter but to me it’s one of my favorite times of the year.  Those tomato plants are finally producing, mornings are cool and crisp, Grand Junction is rarely hitting 90 degrees and lots of yellow and purple late blooming plants are blooming.  This is also a time when a lot is going on under the ground.  Cool season turf has perked up, trees are starting to grow more roots and all perennial plants (trees included) are being like chipmunks and storing up food to make it through the winter.  Here is a wonderful handout called healthy roots, healthy trees:

So what can you do to help your plants make it through winter?  Well, for one, since the nights are getting longer and the days cooler, hopefully you have adjusted how much you are watering.  We need to help slow down plants so they can harden off for winter.  If you keep giving frequent water, they will continue to grow.  So slowly start reducing the times you water but you may need to increase the length of time you are watering.  The best way to check is to use a screwdriver from the drip edge out on trees to see if it easily slides into the soil to a depth of 6-8”.  If it only gets a couple of inches down, you definitely need to water deeper.  If it comes out all muddy, you have over-watered.  Ideally, you should be checking your lawn and garden this way thru and season and adjusting the irrigation; once a month is a good rule to follow.
Lawn at Mesa County Fairgrounds, Photo by SL Carter
As the weather cools, cool season grasses (Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue and perennial ryegrass) will begin to grow faster.  Mowing will be needed more often to ensure that the grass is not stressed.  No more than one-third of the grass blade should be removed at each mowing. Continue to maintain the grass at the same cutting height as during the summer.  Even though lawns grow faster in the fall they will need less water than during the summer.  Adjust your lawn watering accordingly.   Here is a handout on watering established lawns:

This is a good time to install sod.  Preparing the soil properly is critical to success. Contact your local extension office for suggestions.  Do not apply weed killers to newly seeded lawns; wait until the new grass has been mowed at least twice before spraying for weeds.  Sodded lawns can be treated for weeds as soon as the weeds are noticed. And speaking of herbicides, one of our agents did some work the last two falls spraying bindweed with glyphosate, and does it work well.  Targeting certain perennial weeds in fall with the appropriate chemical allows the chemical to be pulled into the roots as the weed is trying to store energy.  Always read the label and follow the instructions.  It is best to make sure what you are using is appropriate for what you are controlling.  If you only have to do it once, it will save you money too.

At lower/warmer elevations, now is a good time to plant some cool season greens to get a last batch before winter gets here.  I will say, I hate when winter gets here and there is no more fresh veggies.  So for now I’ll enjoy the cool morning that still brings abundance. Enjoy!

By Susan L Carter, Horticulture Agent, CSU Extension, Tri River Area

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A Tale of Two Honey Locusts

Posted by: Mary Small, CSU Extension State Master Gardener Coordinator
One troubled Honey Locust!
Trekking across campus I came upon these two honey locust trees. They represent the kind of question I really dislike answering - especially when you can’t actually see the plants in question. Why does one look great and the other one, well - awful? They were planted at the same time. They were purchased from the same company. They both looked good the first few years. And so on…..

So let’s go see what’s wrong with the tree in question, even though I want to shout “Hello, it’s trying to grow in a parking lot!”

First I found weak-looking leaves that were minimal in number. Twig growth increments aren’t (and haven't been) very long either, telling me that the plant hasn't been growing well. It makes sense – few leaves produce few carbohydrates resulting in little growth. On top of that, since mid-August, the tree has been experiencing “early fall”. Another bad sign, indicating some kind of stress that has caused photosynthesis to slow or cease.
Gummosis - not good

Uh-oh – there’s some gumming on the trunk and many of the larger branches I can see. Not a good sign. Right off the bat, it means the tree is stressed. The stressors include but are not limited to drought, sunscald, canker diseases and collar rot. 
The lower trunk has no flare and is flattened on a couple sides.  You can see one of those sides in the photo below. That signals girdling roots, so it’s time to do some excavating. Having only a twig for digging, I find one root just under the soil. Although I couldn’t dig deep enough, with the appropriate tools, I’m pretty sure I would have found more girdling roots.
Flat side and sprinkler too close to trunk

Girdling root

I will admit to not being astute when it comes to automatic tree irrigation, but I have a hard time understanding how one emitter adequately irrigates a tree of this size. Having it so close to the trunk of a honey locust can invite root collar rot infection, too, by keeping the collar area moist and conducive to pathogen growth and development. 
Narrowing trunk and slightly excavated trunk flare (right)
I was able to find only the beginning of the trunk flare and it’s at least 3 inches too deep. It's just showing there on the right side of the photo.  This tells me the root system is also planted too deep. Roots need oxygen to carry on various processes and when they can't get the oxygen they need, processes slow or shut down. They can't resist pathogen infection well or at all, either. 

For fun, compare this deeply planted trunk to the healthier tree’s trunk (below)– it has a comparatively good flare. And you can see it without any excavation.
Better trunk flare of healthier tree

So why does the one tree look healthy and the other awful? The nearly dead tree was planted too deep, causing oxygen starvation and a slow decline. I strongly suspect girdling roots, which would restrict water, nutrient and carbohydrate movement, are also at work here. The heat generated by the asphalt parking lot isn’t helping things, either.  Poor tree!