Thursday, January 22, 2015

Saving pollinators one garden and one person at a time

Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

At this point, most people have heard about the dire situation of Monarchs butterflies.  The World Wildlife Fund and others documented a 59 percent decline in monarch populations this year.  Monarchs get a lot of press because of their beauty and the spectacle of their generations-long migration, and their plight helps to also shed light on the issues facing other pollinators.
Monarch butterfly courtesy Dave Cappaert,

Honeybees are struggling, too, and many native pollinators are in serious trouble, according to Eric Mader, assistant pollinator program director with The Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation. Several species of bumblebees in the United States have declined substantially over the past 2 to 3 decades, according to a study led by entomologist Sydney Cameron of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. The declines are thought to be due to habitat loss/fragmentation, pesticide use, climate change, and non-native pathogens.

Scientists are particularly tracking five declining species of bumblebee, including the Western bumblebee, Bombus occidentalis – and there have been recent sightings in our area! For more information, go here:, or to join a citizen science project documenting bumblebee distribution, go here:
Bumblebee photo courtesy Whitney Cranshaw
Protecting, restoring, and enhancing habitat is the best way to reverse the declines in bumblebee populations, and the best thing is that this is a project where individuals in our own mountain yards can actually make a significant contribution!  So often, you hear about one environmental disaster after another, and can feel somewhat helpless and depressed, but here is a win-win situation where your efforts will help the pollinators and make your yard more beautiful.  Bumblebees are gentle creatures (often likened to flying teddy bears), and will rarely sting unless threatened, so don’t be alarmed at the thought of attracting them to your house (unless someone in your house has a severe allergy).

Bumblebees need three types of habitat to survive: plants on which to forage for pollen and nectar, nesting sites, and places to overwinter.  Usually the latter two don’t require much effort on our part (other than leaving them undisturbed); so here are some tips on what to plant to attract our native pollinators:
  • Plant a diversity of species (best choices are native) so your yard will provide bees and butterflies with nectar and pollen from early spring through fall.  Great flower choices include Golden banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa), Blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata), Yarrow (Achillea lanulosa), Lupine (Lupinus argenteus), Rocky Mtn. beeplant (Cleome serrulata), Beebalm (Monarda fistulosa), Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), and all Penstemons.  Flowering shrubs can also be good choices – look for Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), Wood’s rose (Rosa woodsii), and Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana).
  • During hot, dry periods, provide water in shallow birdbaths or pools where pollinators can easily land. Some wasps and bees need mud to build their nests, and butterflies like to gather in muddy puddles.
  • Reduce or eliminate use insecticides, especially ones that state that they are harmful to bees or butterflies on their label. If using an herbicide, target only invasive weeds, and don’t spray when bees or butterflies are present.

Monday, January 19, 2015

2014 “Top Performer” Perennials from the CSU Trial Gardens

Posted by: Jim Klett, Extension Specialist

The results of the 2014 “Top Performer” perennial trials have been chosen.  A perennial entry is only considered for the “Top Performer” award if it has been in the ground for two winters and three growing seasons although the “Too Good to Wait” award is used for an entry the evaluation committee is confident is superior even after one winter and two growing seasons. For a full list, visit: 

The 2014 “Top Performers” include:

Blue Boa Agastache from Terra Nova® Nurseries
(Agastache x hybrida 'Blue Boa'PP24050)
 Non-stop flower power resulted in a season long splash of bright lavender color that covered the plant in blooms from top to bottom.  Excellent vigor and a relatively large growth habit would make this a good choice for the back of a perennial border that needs color.  Besides all the beauty, this plant is also recommended for its drought tolerance and ability to attract bees and butterflies.  Planted in 2012.

Leilani Coneflower from Terra Nova® Nurseries
(Echinacea spp. 'Lelani' PP23526)
Tall, vigorous plants "wowed!" visitors with the prolific display of "warm, buttery yellow" flowers.  Blooming occurred over a long period and the plants maintained superior controlled vigor for good uniformity and overall appearance.  Planted in 2012.

Profusion Coneflower from Eason Horticultural Resources
(Echinacea purpurea 'Profusion')
Flowers had a unique appearance and overall shape due to many petals with a nice shape and a large, dark center.  The dark stems also complemented the flower petals and dark center.  Plants were compact but flowering was very profuse.  The light lavender petals also faded nicely into a "antique" lavender color that was also very attractive and extended the bloom time.  Planted in 2012.

Georgia Plum Coral Bells from Terra Nova® Nurseries
(Heuchera x hybrida 'Georgia Plum'PP24507)
Plum colored foliage was impressive all season and did not show any signs of fading.  Besides the plum color, foliage also had a nice silver sheen for good color impact throughout the growing season.  Plants were very uniform and had excellent growth habit.  Predominantly grown for the foliage, the light pink/plum flowers were few but still attractive.  Planted in 2012.

Midnight Marvel Hibiscus from Walters Gardens/ Proven Winners®
(Hibiscus x hybrida 'Midnight Marvel'PP24079)
The flowers and foliage made a spectacular combination.   Dark bronze foliage made a perfect backdrop to the beautiful red flowers.   Many flowers came into bloom together and created a good visual impact.  Plants were vigorous but maintained a nice size without getting too large.  Planted in 2012.

 "Too Good to Wait" Winners
 Electric Avenue Coreopsis from Creek Hill/Eason
(Coreopsis verticillata 'Mayo Clinic Flower of Hope'PPAF or 'Electric Avenue')
Bright yellow flowers were very showy and flowering was solid all season.  Plants were vigorous, uniform and maintained good stature from spring to fall.  Fine textured foliage and a nice flower shape contributed to a very pleasing overall affect.  This is good plant for attracting bees.   

Beyond Blue Fescue from Skagit Gardens
(Festuca glauca 'Casca11' PP #23307 )
This fescue is considered to have the best "blue" color out there!  Plants  maintain a nice "ball" shape and do not open in the middle.  Flower stems fade and disappear amongst the foliage for a superior appearance.  This is an improved variety over older ones for foliage color.

Sunrosa™ Red Rose from Suntory® Flowers
(Rosa x hybrid Sunrosa™ Red)
Constant red flowers and impressive growth habit make this plant attractive all season.  Glossy dark green foliage had no signs of chlorosis or disease.  Red flowers bloomed steadily from mid-June through October.  Small foliage and a dwarf compact growth habit make this a good choice for the smaller or mid-size landscapes. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Force is with Him: My brother the grower

Posted by: Alison O’Connor, horticulture agent, Larimer County Extension

I like to think of my brother, Jeff Stoven, as an unsung hero. Jeffrey works for Bailey Nurseries, the third largest wholesale nursery in the nation where he’s the head grower at the Yamhill propagation facility in Yamhill, Oregon. On a daily basis, Jeffrey cares for no less than millions of cuttings that eventually make their way to our retail garden centers and nurseries. I have wondered if Jeffrey has one of the most stressful jobs, simply because he’s continually caring for over a hundred greenhouses that are worth millions of dollars.
One of Jeff's greenhouses at Bailey Nurseries Inc. (Yamhill, OR)
Thousands of cuttings of barberry are rooting, which will be planted
into containers for sale at retail nurseries and garden centers. 
One of the most interesting aspects of Jeff’s job is forcing plant material for the various trade shows and conferences that happen during the winter months across the United States. If you’re a fellow hortie, you’ve attended ProGreen, Mid-Am or CENTS and visited the trade show. If you’re a homeowner, you may have visited a home and garden show. Have you ever noticed the living plant material at these shows? In the middle of January? Seeing green plants is one of the best parts of attending these trade shows because it brightens up the dull, dreary days of winter.
The Hardy Boy booth at the ProGreen Expo 2015
But back to Jeff as an unsung hero…

It takes A LOT to get those plants (trees, shrubs and perennials) to look good and be in flower when the show happens. Just think—roses and hydrangeas blooming in January is not normal. But Jeff can make it happen. And he does it every year.

The process starts with the Bailey’s sales and marketing team—usually around September. In a large company like Bailey’s, they have a vast amount of plant material they have introduced (such as the Endless Summer hydrangea and the Easy Elegance roses) and plants that are good choices for the region. Because the company likes to feature hot, new items, and plants that sell well, the sales and marketing folks come up with a list of plants they would like to feature at the many trade shows the company attends. The list goes to Jeff and his crew, who look it over to see what plants are feasible for forcing. By early October the list of plants is approved and Jeff and his crew start the process by picking the plants out of the container field, where they select nice-looking plants that are free from insects and disease and have no plant health issues.
One of the many container fields at Bailey's (Yamhill, OR)
The plants are put in a dark cooler, just above freezing, for a couple weeks and then the temperature is dropped to slightly below freezing  to trick the plants into early dormancy. It’s important to remember that the climate in the Pacific Northwest is fairly mild in October and they enter the winter more gradually than we do in Colorado.

Then they wait. And use historical records and calculations to determine how long it takes for the plant to push growth and flower to have it in perfect bloom for the trade show. I should also mention that Jeffrey forces plants for several trade shows—from northern California to Maryland—that all occur at different times. Because Jeff has done this a long time, he’s kept meticulous records on how many days to flower (DTF) it takes for specific plants. For example, some roses may only take 45 DTF, while certain cultivars of hydrangeas can take up to 70 days. It’s a lot like plants in the landscape—nothing blooms all at the same time (that’s why we plant for year-long color).
A rose! In bloom! In January!
Knowing the DTF is extremely helpful and if Jeff knows that the ProGreen conference will be held February 13-16, he can subtract time to know when to pull the plant from the cooler and place it in the greenhouse to force growth. But he does this for all species of plants…for each trade show and conference…and for multiple plants. The booth may request three Meyer lilacs, but Jeff will force five so he can have a couple back-ups.

After figuring out when to start waking the plants up, he moves them into a greenhouse that is heated at night around the mid-60s and will warm up to the 80s during the day from the sun. Because Oregon isn’t known for its sunny days in winter, supplemental light is also necessary. High pressure sodium lights come on at 2am and stay on for about 10 hours. With the additional 4-5 hours of natural sunlight until 3 or 4pm, the plants receive “long days” which helps encourage blooming (think of this as the amount of total sunlight during June and July). You may think this is stressful on the plants. And it is, but remember the plants do receive several weeks of dormancy before they are forced into flower. And having live plants in a booth makes people stop and chat with the sales people, which generally leads to greater sales.
The Bailey booth at the 2015 ProGreen Expo (Denver, CO)
As the plants approach bloom, it’s time to ship them to their respective trade show. Jeff checks the weather in the destination city (and also local weather) and plans accordingly. For the plants to ship from Oregon, the Oregon Association of Nurseries (OAN), sends a truck where individual nurseries can buy space (many nurseries from Oregon participate in the ProGreen trade show). That helps save the nurseries money because they share the cost of shipping the plant material from Oregon. As a point of reference, it cost Bailey’s $246/pallet to ship the plant material to Colorado…not a bad deal, considering! For Bailey’s to ship plants to the MANTS show in Maryland, it’s $370/pallet. Learn more here.

The morning of shipping is a busy time. Jeff and his crew spend time watering, pruning, deadheading, tagging and sleeving all the plants and then load them onto the pallets. Last year (2014) was especially stressful. Oregon had snow (a rarity in the Willamette Valley) and Denver high temperatures were in the low teens. Jeff had the foresight to bundle up the plants with paper, plastic and insulation to keep them from freezing. When they arrived in Denver, pallet after pallet from other nurseries had frozen—except for the Bailey plants. Jeff’s extra care in wrapping the plants resulted in the plants arriving unscathed and ready for show.
Packing the plants for shipping to ProGreen 2014
(L to R: Jeff Stoven, Aaron McLaughlin, Mauro Flores-Lopez and Jim McConnell)

All told, Jeffrey forced around 300 plants this year for the various trade shows. And it’s truly remarkable for the time and effort that goes into the process—for just a few days of display. Fortunately, most of the plants go to customers after ProGreen is over (a few have ended up in my landscape). So the next time you visit any horticultural expo in the middle of winter, think of people like my brother Jeff, who provide the color and greenery at the booths. The unsung heros of the horticultural industry. Yay for growers!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Roundup-Resistant Turf: Coming to a Lawn Near You?

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist
Lately, it seems, the acronym “GMO” (genetically modified organism) can be heard or read daily in the news we receive. I did a Google search of “GMO” and got 85.6 million hits. That’s a lot to wade through – especially if you are looking for unbiased information. A great deal of the debate revolves around potential health effects that GM plants and animals may have when they in some way become part of the food we eat and the labeling of that food. How the growing of GM crops and animals affects the environment, and the economic implications of GMOs, also pose concerns for many people. Unfortunately for those seeking valid information on GMOs, the facts and science often become lost among ideological debates, conspiracy theories, and distrust that both sides have for each other. Well, my purpose here is not to provide the answers for which you might be searching. Heck, this might cause even more confusion – and debate.

In the past week, kind of “under the radar”, a few articles have appeared about field testing the Scotts Company will begin of a glyphosate/Roundup-resistant (RR) tall fescue (as far as I can tell, there has been no official press release about this grass from Scotts). Almost more newsworthy than the grass itself is the fact that the USDA determined in January 2014 that it had no authority to regulate the testing or introduction of this GM tall fescue. They concluded (read the USDA’s letter to Scotts here), that the USDA and APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) have no authority to regulate the testing of the Scotts RR tall fescue because: a) the tall fescue was not transformed (i.e., made glyphosate/Roundup resistant) using plant pests, unknown organisms, or regulated organisms, .
b) that tall fescue is not a federal noxious weed, and c) that there is no reason to believe that the glyphosate-resistance transformation is likely to “increase the weediness of tall fescue”. The USDA and APHIS similarly ruled in 2011 that they would not regulate the development or release of glyphosate-resistant Kentucky bluegrass by Scotts – a ruling which paved the way for the testing of GM bluegrass in the yards of some Scotts employees in 2014 and limited commercialization in 2015

For many years Roundup-tolerant (not resistance to glyphosate, but tolerance of lower rates of the herbicide) tall fescues and perennial ryegrasses have been commercially available. But if Scotts begins selling their GM bluegrasses and tall fescue, they would be the first RR turfgrasses (and genetically modified ones, in the GMO sense) to become commercialized. Scotts’ first attempt at releasing a Roundup-resistant turfgrass (a creeping bentgrass) was nothing short of disastrous and was discontinued when the Roundup-resistance gene escaped (via pollen) from Oregon test seed production fields and was found in native bentgrass plants 12 miles away. As recently as 2010, populations of glyphosate-resistant bentgrass were still being discovered in eastern Oregon after the gene escaped from western Idaho seed fields that were destroyed by Scotts in 2006.

So why the interest by Scotts in the development of RR tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass – or any turfgrass, for that matter? Because it makes weed control simpler: there would be (theoretically) only one herbicide needed to kill weeds in lawns planted with RR grasses – Roundup (glyphosate). This is the basis for the development of the many “Roundup-Ready” agricultural crops (soybeans, corn, cotton, alfalfa, others) being grown worldwide.

Are there valid reasons to be concerned about the commercialization of RR tall fescue and bluegrass? Certainly.  Because these species also produce pollen, the potential exists for the gene to move – as happened with the GM bentgrass 10 years ago. And the development of glyphosate-tolerant/resistant weed populations, as has happened with some Roundup-Ready cropping systems, is a legitimate concern. Proponents of the Scotts RR turfgrasses might suggest that these grasses would provide simplified weed management for the end user, allow the use of an environmentally benign herbicide for weed control when needed, and that by employing integrated weed management principles the potential for resistant weeds would be minimized. And it has been suggested that tall fescue pollen is much less likely to cause the problems experienced with the RR creeping bentgrass.

The concerns of those opposed to the commercialization of these grasses are valid ones. Hopefully the research will be done properly, care will be taken in the commercialization and production process, and the debate will be based on science and not like what I just read on this blog – which suggests that rolling on a lawn of “poisonous” RR tall fescue or Kentucky bluegrass might be hazardous to your health. (I hesitated to link to this blog, but am confident that our readers are intelligent enough to filter out the more ridiculous rantings of the writer).

To finish on a lighter note…I did a Google search of “golf” and found – to my delight – an impressive 1.38 BILLION hits. This proves that golf is 60% more important…and fun…and popular to read and write about… than GMOs. 

Finally, my prediction for the national football championship tonight: Ohio State defeats Oregon 41-38. Go Buckeyes!!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

When It's Cold Outside...

Posted by: Linda Langelo, Horticulture Agent, Golden Plains Area can always add more layers to your clothing.  But not your plants, they are open to the elements.  When plants are exposed to high winds, fluctuating temperatures from warm to cold, there is water loss within the foliage.  This is called desiccation.  What is the best care for your plants? Here are some tips:
  • Knowledge of proper site selection for all your plants reduces stress and helps with winter injury, even with tender evergreens and perennials.
  • Providing protection for your plants by appropriately placing them nearby structures and other plantings.
  • Watering well before the ground freezes in late autumn hydrates plants giving them a good start.  When the ground freezes, the root system cannot uptake any water.
  • Fertilizing plants appropriately will help reduce plant stress.
  • Mulching around plants in the fall helps protect the root system by helping to maintain a steady soil temperature.  Do not mulch shallow rooted plants too deeply such as carpet bugle, thyme or blue fescue.  A mulch of about 2 inches will suffice.  Other plants can tolerate mulch up to 4 inches.  Too much mulch mitigates the oxygen in the soil available for the roots.  Shallow roots can get pushed out of the soil during the freezing and thawing of the soil over winter.  When mulching around trees, do not place mulch against the trunk which creates a condition of excess moisture.  This moisture attracts mold, fungus and insects to the bark.
  •  Using burlap as screening about 18 inches from the evergreen tree or shrub to help reduce the impact of winter winds.  However, if you live on the plains this option can be helpful for certain plants in your landscape plantings but impossible for any windbreak.  Rather pay attention to the first two tips mentioned above.
    Burlap protects evergreen plants from prevailing winds.
    (Photo from "sunny" Ohio; Alison O'Connor)
  • Winter mulches such as straw or evergreen boughs are good to use for perennials, bulbs, groundcovers and strawberry plantings.
  •  Pray for snow.  Snow provides insulation for plants.
How can you tell if your plants are desiccated?  Damage appears as browning at the tips and margins of needles and leaves of plants.  Some evergreens may exhibit yellowing or bronzing of their needles. The injury will appear on the side exposed to predominant winter winds.  
Browning and bronzing of evergreen needles.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland)

Yellowing needles on evergreens from cold injury.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland)
On some shrubs, freezing and thawing can turn to browning and blighting of the shrub.  Another sign of winter injury is blackened buds or buds that are dry and brown.  In trees, the bark can split due to the fluctuation in winter temperatures.  As in the picture below, courtesy of University of Maryland Extension, de-icing products can cause leaf scorch on plants by the sidewalk or roadway. 
Salt injury to evergreen foliage from de-icing products.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Maryland)
In spring do not rush to prune off those browned or bronzed needles of your evergreen plants.  Wait until the weather warms up which may be the middle of May to early June for some of us.  Don’t let the brown foliage fool you.  Check the stems and look for any new growth.    

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Great Poinsettia Experiment (that failed)

Posted by: Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension

I’m sure you’ve all heard the warnings about poinsettias—don’t let them dry out, don’t let them get cold, be sure to buy them on a warm day so they don’t suffer from cold injury as you walk to your car. There are a lot of care instructions that accompany that gorgeous red, pink, white or bi-color holiday plant. But are poinsettias as wimpy as we think they are? Do they really wither with a slight cold breeze? Can they withstand freezing temperatures? This is what I wanted to find out, so with my $0.99 poinsettias I purchased after Thanksgiving (yes, it’s a deal and no, the grower doesn’t make any money), I essentially tested the limits of these colorful plants to see how far I could push them.

Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are a member of the euphorbia family, which means they are related to leafy spurge (ugh), castor bean (highly poisonous), croton and the rubber tree. It also means they contain a milky white sap that oozes when plant parts are broken and discourages grazing animals. The scientific name comes from Euphorbus, named after the Greek physician who cared for King Juba II (50 B.C. to 19 A.D.) Pulcherrima translates to beautiful or handsome. Many of the euphorbia plants are attractive with colorful bracts (like the poinsettias) or leaves (croton).

But back to the experiment... Like you, I take extreme caution when transporting poinsettias from the store to my car and place them in my home in a non-drafty location. I water them regularly and make sure the water drains from the plastic sleeve surrounding the pot. The poinsettias do surprisingly well in my home, even though we keep our heat around 60 degrees, and last for several weeks past Christmas. Usually I get sick of watering and caring for them and they end up in the trash before they start to fade. But as I mentioned above…all those warnings! Do these plants need to be babied as much as we think?

So I bought 15 poinsettias and put them in the greenhouse and started the treatments: drowning (sitting in standing water constantly), drought (no water) and placed in a drafty spot. I looked at treatments using plastic sleeves when the plants are outdoors and no plastic sleeve (to try to determine if the plastic sleeve does anything when you walk outside). I put the sleeve and no sleeve plants outside when it was a balmy 21 degrees outside and left them there for 12 minutes (figuring that’s a long time for a person to walk from the store to their car).
The poinsettia treatments (3 reps per treatment)
In short, you can probably guess which ones looked the worst. Yes, the drowning and drought bit the dust, but it took them a few weeks. Clearly, water…either too much or too little…is not a friend of the poinsettia. The plants put outdoors looked fine. In fact, they showed no signs of cold stress at all. They didn’t even flinch! The plants put in front of the draft were also fine, but after four weeks, they were much smaller in size than their counterparts. Interesting!
'Nuff said. No water for 4 weeks.

Sitting in standing water for  4 weeks.
Plants in a drafty spot were much smaller in size.
Cold treatment (12 minutes at 21 degrees) did not affect these poinsettias.

Sleeve or no sleeve. Poinsettias appeared to be unaffected by cold.
Because I was bound and determined to see something on how cold weather affects poinsettias, I did another round with new plants. These were generously donated from the CSU student poinsettia sale (thanks Mike and Dr. Newman!). A couple weeks ago it was horribly windy and very cold. Perfect! The wind was howling at 30mph and it was 32 degrees outside. I left them outside in these elements for 20 minutes—much longer than I would have lasted…and I’m not a Zone 10 plant.
Experiment 1b,...wind and cold.
Again, nothing! No damage to the bracts from the wind. No leaf tattering. No signs of stress, except for maybe a bit of leaf tip burn.
Maybe tip burn? But this could be from fertilizer, water and/or cold.

I’m impressed. And flummoxed. My conclusion to the Great Poinsettia Experiment? They appear to be much tougher than we give them credit for. And quite scrappy. It’s no wonder that they are so popular and over 34 million are sold in the United States each year. In fact, it’s the number one potted plant (take that, Easter lily). My hat’s off to you, poinsettia. 
Maybe snow would have been a good treatment...