Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Superbowl of Plants

Posted by Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

Here we go again – our dreams of a championship season are back, hope resting on whether our superstars are tough enough to weather anything thrown at them and still look fabulous in orange, blue, and white.  Pink, purple, red, and yellow is ok too, as long as they give us dramatic pinwheels, mile high spikes, or daring snaps.

In celebration of Superbowl 50, we asked the pros at DenverBotanic Gardens, Plant Select, and All America Selections for their top picks for a Superbowl of plants.  What these sage plants people tell us we need in our starting lineup are petunias.  Plus some zinnias, Echinacea, and a lot of Blonde ambition. 

Blonde Ambition courtesy of Plant Select

Like our very own Peyton Manning, Blonde Ambition blue grama grass is selected as the number one seed for the team by Plant Select’s Executive Director, Pat Hayward.   Durable and adaptable , Blonde Ambition was voted the MVP two years in a row in the Plant Select® demonstration gardens performance survey.

A vigorous form of our native blue grama grass, Blonde Ambition grows in sunny spots with little to no additional irrigation beyond natural precipitation. Unassuming in spring and summer, the mounds of medium-green, fine-textured grass explodes with drama when showy, chartreuse seed heads high above the leaves in fall and winter.

Hot Wings courtesy of Plant Select
Plant Select’s second all-Pro choice has a name to match its performance:  Hot Wings®.  One of the highest team scorers in the performance survey, this Tatarian Maple was rated in the top 10 performers in all but the highest elevation gardens.   Hot Wings® is a smaller ornamental tree getting its name from the brilliant, flame-red seed pods (samaras) produced in June, and lasting through most of the summer.  It’s extremely tolerant of our challenging gardening conditions, and grows in full sun or partial shade. 

Dan Johnson, Associate Director of Horticulture and Curator of Native Plants with Denver Botanic Gardens, anchors his line with BigToothMaple (Acer grandidentatum).  This native tree from Western canyons and mountainsides is underused for inexplicable reasons, says Johnson.  Perfectly proportioned, this Rocky Mountain version of the famed sugar maple is an ideal small tree for compact gardens.  It’s tough, drought tolerant, and produces fall colors that rival their more delicate eastern cousins.

Johnson also appreciates the power of blitzing, and lists ProfusionSeries Zinnias as first string starters.  “This series of Zinnia hybrids took me by surprise. Plants are uniform domes of saturated color that start blooming early and last all summer long. They thrive in heat and tolerate dry spells easily once established. Each daisy-shaped bloom last for weeks -pair these with blue or purple Angelonia to stop people in their tracks,” he said.

For sheer performance from coast to coast, All America Selections puts up a roster of winners, says Diane Blazek, Executive Director.  Petunia Wave® Purple Classic set the standard for the wildly popular Wave series, and was an AAS Winner in 1995. Like Von Miller, Wave covers everything; smothering slopes or hanging like a curtain from baskets and window boxes.  
Petunia Wave Purple courtesy of All America Selections

Outstanding along borders or rising above mass groupings, Cheyenne Spirit is an AAS Echinacea that produces a mix of flower colors from purple, pink, red, and orange to lighter yellows, creams, and white. Sow several seeds from the packet to get the wide range of flower colors.  As an added bonus, ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ does not require a lot of water and stays upright, even during wind, rain, or a bruising tackle.

Echinacea Cheyenne Spirit courtesy of All America Selections
Scouting reports from the big three plants-people list these hot prospects as rookies to watch: Plant Select’s Standing Ovation littlebluestem (2016), Mini Man™ viburnum (2016), Coral Baby penstemon (2015), Windwalker®big bluestem (2015), and Undaunted® ruby muhly (2014).

All America Selections welcome rookies Impatiens SunPatiens® SpreadingShell Pink (2015) and Mascotte beans (2014).  And Denver Botanic Gardens keeps the veteran Agastache rupestris, Sunset Hyssop, in its lineup. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Neighborhood Walk Yields Plant Photo Ops...and Oops

Posted by Mary Small, Jefferson County Extension

Walking through my community is not only good for my health – it’s also a great time to scout for plant problems, take pictures and post them here!
Arborvitae with desiccation injury
This arborvitae is a good example of fall/winter injury. Our dry, warm fall contributed to the problem. Needles can still transpire (lose water) on warm, sunny and windy days. If there’s no water reinforcements, needles dry out.

The damaged side faces south so it’s also possible the tissue was not acclimated in time for a cold weather event.  It’s also possible the tissue on the south side warmed up, activated cells and then temperatures dropped rapidly, causing the cells to freeze. Oops.

Junipers with desiccation injury
Down the street I found a grouping of junipers that met a similar fate. These face west and are planted next to the foundation. I think the plant tissue warmed up because of the warm western exposure and was likely damaged at the same time as the arborvitae. The foundation area is a typically dry site in a landscape; there may not have been enough water for the plants to replace losses, either. That light colored stone mulch reflects heat onto plants, too. Oops.

Both sets of injury emphasize the importance of two practices – siting correctly and fall watering. Narrow leaved evergreens are prone to needle damage in dry fall and winter weather, so it’s important to plant them in a location that affords protection from temperature extremes. South and west exposures do not.  Evergreen roots can still absorb moisture well into the fall as long as soil temperatures are above 40 degrees F. Monthly watering around November 1 and December 1 can go a long way to help supply needed moisture and decrease the injury. 


Oops is one of the few things I said when I saw this poor willow. We had a strong windstorm and this section of the community was particularly ravaged. 

The raggedy wounds should have been trimmed to be more circular – that would help promote wound closure. But the real problem is that the tree was a poor selection, being a weak-wooded species that breaks up easily in wind. It wasn’t trained while young to improve its form and now it’s too late to do much about it. Sometimes a tree just needs to be removed when it is the wrong plant in the wrong place.  

Don't leave stubs!

Finally, what is this crabapple “pruning” job all about? Leaving a stub is never a good idea. It eventually decays and can be an invitation to insect and disease problems.  Oops. (Good thing I took the picture when I did –the tree’s since been removed!)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Hort Peeve: Tree Torture with Staking Materials

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Every time we launch a new Master Gardener class, we warn the students, who are cheerful, happy and enthusiastic, that the class can sometimes made you jaded. Instead of seeing the beauty in the world, you start to see telephone pole trees, diseases and just general landscape practices that make you facepalm.
(photo courtesy of The Simpsons)
But there's one that really gets my goat...and that's the torture of trees by staking materials. My colleague Linda Chalker-Scott at Washington State calls it "Tree Bondage" and that's an accurate description. Wire embedded into bark, trees staked so tightly they can't even move in wind and straps carelessly left on trees for years, which end up causing girdling.
Wince. Sob. Grimace.
Sigh. It's sometimes tough to swallow the bile in my throat. Poor trees. My first thought is how long it takes for trees to grow in the nursery--depending on species and size, it can take anywhere from 4-7+ years. That's a long time for a diligent nursery employee to care for a tree, only to have it choke to death a couple years later.
Do you see both areas that were girdled?
So let's make a plan to stop the torture and let our trees have a healthy successful life.

First of all, staking may not be necessary. You read that correctly. If you plant the tree properly (see a step-by-step here), staking materials may not be needed. Staking has been found to decrease trunk taper, increase height but decrease caliper, develop a smaller root system and suffer from girdling, which can kill a tree. There's only a few instances where someone should use stakes:

1. Planting trees in a windy site. Now, don't just use the disclaimer that Colorado (or North Dakota or Tennessee) is windy. We're talking WIND. Perpetual wind. So windy that if you wore a toupee, you'd probably move out of the area.

2. Planting in an area with many people activities. In general, trees planted in parks, golf courses and right-of-ways may fit into this category. If your backyard has a soccer game every night of the week, then staking is probably a good idea.

3. To support trees that cannot stand up on their own. And this leads to another peeve. You should never, ever buy a tree that flops over. Never. There is no excuse. As consumers, we should be proactive in only buying quality nursery stock. I know it was a good deal and that you felt sorry for it...but don't buy a floppy tree.
No, don't even think about it! Don't buy this tree! Move away from the floppy trunk.
Everything else probably doesn't need staking--again, if you plant it correctly.

But let's say you want to stake. Because staking your trees is like a hamburger with cheese. It just not right without it. If you stake, follow these suggestions:

1. Use canvas staking straps with grommets in either end. It was found that wire or even hose with wire was found to girdle trees lickity-split. So using the wider canvas straps will help distribute pressure along the trunk.
The proper staking strap.
2. Make sure the tree can move in the wind following the staking process. The tree should be allowed to move from top to bottom.

3. Keep the straps low on the trunk. They should be placed no higher than 2/3 the height of the tree. Again, the lower straps allows movement of the tree.

4. Remove all staking materials within one year following planting. Various research has found that staking straps can cause injury even a couple months after planting. The day you plant your tree, make a note on next year's calendar to take off the straps. It's very easy to forget staking straps and then your poor tree suffers.

Poor suffering tree. I bet he feels foolish around his friends because he has a dumb staking strap growing out of his trunk.
I fully advocate that we should free our trees of such pain and suffering...remove those straps and sing "Born Free!" Your tree will thank you. And so do I.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Best Tomatoes I’ve Ever Grown

Posted by: Susan Perry, Master Gardener in Larimer County

“Best” is such a challenging word.  I guess most people would think about the best-tasting tomatoes they’ve ever grown.  To give that perspective justice, you’d have to be the type who tries new varieties every year.  That’s never been me …. I find something I like and stay loyal.  Of course, this approach has its pros (always a known, enjoyable quantity) and cons (maybe I’ve missed out).  Take ice cream.  From a little kid, it’s always been mint chocolate chip for me.  I’ve tried other things but mint chocolate chip has remained my favorite.  Fast forward to adulthood here in Ft. Collins when Coldstone Creamery opened.  They had mint but it was too minty, so I branched out to coffee with Heath Bar bits on top.  YUM YUM!

Back to tomatoes.  For years, it was Early Girl.  They worked pretty consistently in Colorado.  Then,
Early Girl tomato
(Photo courtesy of Rutgers University)
it seemed every year there was always something that went wrong.  A few years ago, my next door neighbor (Carrie) gave me some Brandywine and Purple Cherokees she’d grown from seed.  We tried them, loved them, and they had survived a nasty whitefly infestation that decimated the Early Girls, and a Mortgage Lifter.  Both Brandywine and Purple Cherokee had great flavor and were great for BLTs.  They became my number one for pure flavor.  (Remember, I haven’t tried hundreds of varieties so they seem perfect to me.)  But they were a bit juicy for canning, so last year we also planted Roma plum tomatoes, which were quite good for canning and very prolific.

Purple Cherokee....or Cherokee Purple
No matter how you say it, they are tasty!
I’m sure there are many out there who have experimented with other varieties who could suggest other things for me to try.  And I’d give them a shot, so don’t hold back.  But it really wasn’t just flavor that made Brandywine and Purple Cherokee “best” for me.  “Best” was, thanks to Carrie, when I branched out and started growing my own tomato plants from seed.  When growing open-pollinated tomatoes, I could collect seeds from tomatoes I’d grown, save them, and use them the following year.  So this worked well with the Brandywine, Purple Cherokee, and Roma.

But collecting the seed in the summer, starting seedlings in the spring, transplanting them outside over Memorial Day weekend, and watching them grow all summer is what has made for the “best” experience.   First, it reminded me that things are often far less daunting than one might imagine.  Growing from scratch also gave me the satisfaction of knowing what had happened to my tomato plants every step of the way.  No more hoping that the store where I bought the plants knew to bring them in when nighttime temps were below 50 degrees.  No more waiting till Memorial Day so that all the plants that had been exposed to cold nighttime temps had already been sold.  And last, I learned a bunch of new things – exactly how to collect the seeds, hot to pot-up the seedlings to prevent them from becoming too leggy, and taking advantage of all warm days in the spring to put my seedlings outside when temps were above 50 degrees and bringing them in at night.  Which all goes to prove that you can teach an old broad new tricks!  

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hortie DIY: Making Newspaper Seed Pots

Posted by: Cassey Anderson, Adams County Extension

For those of you who want to start seeds but don’t want to purchase a bunch of plastic pots, consider making your own newspaper pots for seed starting this spring. They’re really easy, stand up on their own, and the newspaper will break down just in time for transplanting! This is just one method, you can find many, many more through Google searches, many of which come complete with video instructions if the photos here prove too complicated.

Start with a single sheet of newspaper.

Fold it up in half.  Leave the folded side facing towards you 

Fold it in half again (the other direction). The open it up again.

Fold each side in towards the crease you just made. 

Your “pot” should look like this. 

Fold one half of the page down towards the folds you just made. 

Then flip that over again to overlap the bottom part. 

Flip the entire piece over to the other side and fold each side towards the middle crease. 

Fold final top flap down half way, and tuck the flap under the existing flaps. 

Fold pointed tip up towards top, crease and unfold. Fold pointed tip towards the left hand side of the crease you just made, make a new crease (this will be the point the bottom of the pot will fold on as you open it in the next step). 

Open pot up folding the base as shown. 

Congratulations! You now have made your own biodegradable seed starting pot. Make a bunch and use them this spring to start your seedlings. Do note that after about a month of regular watering the bottoms become very fragile. 

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Fresh Food--Keeping it Local

Posted by: Linda Langelo, Golden Plains Area Horticulture Program Associate
Photo Credit: 
Would you have imagined 40 years ago, we would be able to purchase just about anything online?  When I was a kid, I imagined being able to order anything online and having it delivered to our homes.  That was in the days of dial-up modems.  Well, reality has caught up to my imagination...which my parents thought was overactive.

Recently, I read a blog from about a new online farmers’ market called Farmigo.  The founder, Benzi Ronen is a technology wiz who has spent 20 years in the field of technology.  Now he is taking an interest in how fresh food is distributed and increasing the selection of fresh food with every weekly box of locally grown produce. 

Farmigo is not a food co-op a collectively owned grocery store.  With an open food co-op, only members can get discounted prices while anyone can shop at the store.  A private co-op requires membership and only members can shop at the store.  Co-ops can carry locally grown quality fresh food and/or top quality grocery items.  Farmigo goes beyond co-ops and food clubs.
Until Farmigo was started, distributors and retailers gave the farmer 20 to 30 percent of what the consumers spend.  Farmigo allows the farmer to obtain 60 percent of what the consumers spend. How?

Consumers get directly connected to the farmers.  Farmigo has a database of 400 farms using their software.  Consumers get choose each week from a number of different items in the online market.  They know the origin of each item.  This also gives them information on the farm and a listing of other items from that farm.  When they place their order, it goes directly to the farmer.   The consumer decides on a pickup location in their neighborhood.  The pickup location relies on neighborhood volunteers.  These volunteers are keeping a savings along to the consumer.  The consumers receive about 10 percent savings through this type of distribution system. 

Farmigo has school sites for pickup locations.  In fact, Farmigo gives the schools a 10 percent share of the sales as a fundraiser for the school towards their nutrition program or their school garden.  What great ingenuity of using technology in a positive way and connecting people to work together for the betterment of their lives.  Without your health, living becomes a challenge.  After all, isn’t food life’s real medicine? 

Where did Ronen get this type of food system model?  Believe it or not, political organizations get to volunteers at the local level by choosing volunteers who know their neighborhood well.  Then it starts with real person-to-person connections.  People are getting to know their neighbors where they previously did not. 

Where will my imagination take me to next?  Better yet, how will your imagination lead us into the future?  I am challenging anyone working in the green industry, home horticulture and/or consumers to share what you envision for the future of horticulture or some specific area of horticulture such as raising fresh food.  Since there is no deadline on sharing your vision, we welcome your comments anytime.   At some point in the future, I can follow through with another blog on your visions.  We look forward to reading your comments.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Registration open for Native Landscaping Conference!


Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants – the first conference of its kind in Colorado!

  • Saturday, March 12, 2016, 8am – 5pm
  • Location: The Ranch Events Center / Larimer County Fairgrounds, Thomas M. McKee 4-H, Youth & Community Building
  • Cost: $90*, student cost: $45 with valid student ID
  • Register here:

Keynote Speaker

  • Susan Tweit of Salida, CO
  • The Ditch and the Meadow: How Native Plants and Gardeners Revived a Neighborhood and Changed the Culture of a Town

Breakout Sessions

You will be able to attend three of the following sessions:

Virtual Garden Tours (everyone will be able to attend all of them)

The following people will showcase their native gardens:
  • Carol English and Dave Elin: rock garden, Morrison
  • Mimi amd Larry Elmore: Wild By Design, Lyons
  • Jan & Charlie Turner: residential garden, Golden
  • Rick Brune: prairie garden, Lakewood
  • Kenton Seth: Paintbrush Gardens, rain-powered landscape, Grand Junction
Lunch, drinks and snacks are provided with your registration fee. We will have vendor booths available during registration, lunch and breaks.

Please go here for more information and to register:


Premier Sponsor:
Loveland Water & Power 

Event Sponsor:
Audubon Rockies
Ft. Collins Nursery
Wildland Restoration Volunteers

Interested in being a sponsor or vendor? Contact us and include company contact information.