Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Which Manure is right for your garden?

Posted by: Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

Set aside your coffee and breakfast, gentle reader; the following is not fit for mealtime conversation.  Fall is approaching, and with it a ritual of the garden: manuring.  We pile it on to improve the soil, enhancing tilth, microbes, and fertility.  Enfolding it into the ground sets us up for a wonderful bounty next year.
(Photo from Washing State University)
Before you go out and get just any manure, take a trip with me through the wonderful world of the ruminant digestive system, where we’ll ponder that age-old question of “which is better – cow, sheep, chicken, or horse?” 

“That depends on what you want in your soil.  Chicken has hardly any fiber, but lots of nitrogen.  Horses have a lot of long fibers that add tilth to the soil,” says Frank Garry, Veterinarian and Professor of Clinical Sciences at Colorado State University.  “Monogastric systems are simple.  We’re monogastric, so are pigs, dogs, or cats.  We have enzymes and acids in the stomach to break down food to a certain point,” he says. “Our intestines absorb nutrients but some things won’t break down, like fiber.  So what goes in comes out.”
Poultry poo has a lot of nitrogen (photo by Fred McClanahan, Jr.)
Ruminants, such as cows, sheep, goats, deer, elk, bison, moose, and yaks have a multi-compartment stomach where they use the power of microbes to ferment their food.  In combination with ruminating, - chewing their cud - ruminants very efficiently break down what they’ve eaten. 

“Ruminants are designed to eat fast, then hide in the woods; they’ll walk away to find a safe spot where they rechew what they ate to break it down further. We only get one chance at macerating our food, but ruminants spit it up over and over, chewing it to bits so it can be fermented further, releasing nutrients.  It’s a cool dance that the lowly monogastric doesn’t have,” said Garry. 

This fermentation-based system allows ruminants to be excellent recyclers of food waste produced by humans.  Able to adapt to a wide range of food, the discards from breweries, sugar beet pulp, wheat mids, French fry manufacturing, cotton, or corn ethanol production are being fed to livestock.  Known as commodity feeds, they’re taken and blended based on nutrient contents to create customized combinations targeted at individual herd needs.

Material only passes once it’s broken into tiny particles, so cow pies are comprised of small bits; this is useful as building blocks for soil fertility and organic matter.  Most of the ruminant manure has more phosphorus than people want, because it’s present in high quantities in plants that they eat.

Rabbits and horses aren’t set up the same way, so aren’t as efficient at breaking down the plants they eat.  “They have a similar system of fermentation, but it’s in the hind gut (with no rumination).  As a result their waste has more long-stem fiber.  But it really depends on the plants they eat,” said Garry.  Horse manure is an excellent source for building organic matter and improving tilth.
Horse manure as far as the eye can see (Photo from University of Minnesota Extension)
Weed seeds can slip past the process occasionally, but the relative amounts of weeds you’ll get from the different poo depends largely on what the animal eats.  Goats and sheep are browsers, chomping down more weeds.  Elk and deer browse too, but prefer more leafy fare.  Horses and cows graze grass, typically, but might nosh on a few weeds in the process.

Should you just want to boost the nitrogen amount in your soil, chicken manure is an excellent choice.  Younger gardens, which need more organic matter to improve the soil, benefit from horse dung.  For all-around good maintenance, cow, sheep, goat, yak, and other ruminant manure works well.  Follow your nose to the manure that’s perfect for your garden, and you’ll set yourself up this fall for success next spring.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Give it up for Garlic!

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

As we move into "vampire season" (Halloween), it's always a good idea to keep some garlic on hand. And what better way to keep those white fangs at bay with planting and growing your own garlic!
(photo from
Garlic is in the same family as onions, chives and ornamental alliums. The two types of garlic that grow best in Colorado are softneck (Allium sativum var. sativum) and hardneck (Allium sativum var. ophioscorodon). Softneck stores longer and is commonly braided. Hardneck tends to have more flavor and is easier to peel. Hardneck garlic also sends up a flowering scape, which you can harvest in early summer for additions to your stir-fry.

Be sure to buy your garlic from a nursery, garden center or local farmers' market. Garlic purchased at the grocery store is generally treated to prevent sprouting, therefore will not sprout in your garden. There are many types of seed garlic available, with different flavors.
I purchased these garlic heads at the farmers' market. They were $1.50/each.
Though you should really plant garlic a few weeks before the first expected frost (which is generally around September 15 in the Front Range), I'm a little late with my garlic planting and just put it in the ground. Fortunately, this fall has been really warm and there isn't an expected frost in the forecast for at least 10 days. The warm soil will help the cloves get rooted before really cold weather sets in.

Planting garlic could not be easier. Honestly, if you think you have a black thumb, plant some garlic. It's virtually fool-proof. It's quick to get in the ground and very low maintenance.

Dig a trench in your garden or raised bed. The trench can be as long as you want and about 2-3" deep. Garlic is a bulb and will be planted just like tulips or crocus.

Trench it. Trench it real good.
Take your garlic head and gently break it apart to separate the cloves. Plant only the largest cloves, as they will form the largest garlic heads.
Break apart your garlic head to separate the cloves.
Plant each clove 2-3" deep and 4-6" apart; poke the bottom of the garlic clove into the ground with the pointy end up. No, you don't need to peel the cloves--leave the paper on!
Plant pointy end up!
The garlic planted in the ground.
Then cover the cloves with soil, breaking up any large clods. Water following planting. In my garden, I haven't yet blown out my sprinkler system, so I replaced the drip lines over the top of the garlic. Next summer, the garlic will receive regular water with the rest of the garden. This fall, I will water the garlic once or twice per week to help get roots established, and once a month in winter if we don't have regular snowfall.
Drip irrigation over the garlic row.
Because my lawn needed mowing, I collected some grass clippings and mulched over the top of the garlic (and drip irrigation) and I added some leaf litter.
The garlic is bedded in for winter. 
That's it! Next spring, the garlic will send up green shoots. It will be ready for harvest when half of the stalk withers and browns (late summer). To harvest the garlic, use a garden fork to lift the bulbs...trying to pull it out by the stalk will result it in breaking.

And for some reason, I can't get John Lennon's song "Give Peace a Chance" out of my head as I type this. So.....all I am sayin' give garlic a chance!
Yay garlic!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

More From the Cottonwood Front

Posted by Mary Small, CSU Extension in Jefferson County
Dropped branches 
A few blog articles ago, I wrote that many cottonwoods were shedding leaves early. This was due in part to foliar diseases resulting from a wet spring. Now, it seems, they are shedding small branches and causing a second round of worry from their owners. (Is it winter yet?!)

This phenomenon is known as “cladoptosis”, one of those “osis” words that strikes fear into the hearts of many.  Fortunately, cladoptosis is a naturally occurring twig drop common to many tree species, including cottonwood. And, wouldn’t you know, it happens in the fall alongside leaf drop.
"Ball" of dropped branches
Take a look at the bottom of the fallen, pencil sized branches underneath the tree. You’ll see nice, clean cut with a rounded, raised center. If you tried to reattach the dropped branch to where it was originally connected, you’ll see the two pieces make up a ball and socket arrangement. This is a big clue that the tree was an active player and the branch drop wasn’t caused by squirrels chewing or storm breakage or something else.

"Socket" on tree branch
Before the branch fell from the tree, specialized cells created a separation layer where a break occurs. The cells also created a protective layer covering the opening in the branch remaining on the tree. This helps protect against moisture loss.  

Researchers are unclear why cladoptosis occurs. It's thought to be stress related. Affected trees may be suffering from problems such as soil compaction issues or drought.  The tree is stressed, so it “cuts its losses” by shedding less vigorous plant material, enabling it to better support more vigorous portions. Cladoptosis may also function like leaf drop, a sort of “planned senescence”.  

Bottom line: don’t worry about this type of branch drop, the tree is not dying. Try to improve water applications and reduce compaction in the tree’s root zone to improve its overall health. Don’t be surprised if cladoptosis pays a visit next year, though!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Native plants for fall color

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

Colorado’s fall colors are often overlooked or underrated, especially by people who feel that only the splendid reds of the upper Midwest and East Coast “count.”    “Yeah”, they say wistfully, “Colorado’s fall colors are just, well….not the same.:

Okay, maybe they’re not the same, but I would like to say that I, for one, LOVE our falls.  Perhaps there aren’t the vast maple forests, but when I see translucent aspen leaves lit by a slanting sun and contrasted with our blue blue sky, it makes my heart sing.

And, let’s not overlook that some aspen have a genetic tendency towards reds, especially some years.

But, aspen aside, there are many fantastic native shrubs and even perennials that can provide fall color.Take smooth and three-lobed sumac (Rhus glabra and Rhus trilobata ), for example. Both provide nice fall reds.  Smooth sumac is the more fire-engine red, but beware of its rhizomatous and aggressive nature, and only plant where you have lots of room. 

Rhus trilobata
There’s red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea AKA Swida sericea).  It has lightly fragrant white flowers in spring, lovely red fall color, white berries for birds and –bonus!—red twigs for winter interest.

Golden Currant (Ribes aureum and Ribes odoratum) have fragrant yellow flowers (R. odoratum especially), edible black berries and a gorgeous red. I particularly like pairing it with Western sage (Artemisia tridentata) for the color contrast.

Waxflower (Jamesia americana) is a Plant Select ® Selection, and in good years, turns beautiful reds and purples.

One of my favorite underused plants is native mountain-ash (Sorbus scopulina).  While this may be most appropriate for mountain communities like mine, it is still a gorgeous plant.  I love how the pinnately compound leaves become a mosaic of greens and orange and reds in the fall.  The addition of orange berries can’t be beat!

Our native chokecherry is also no slouch when it comes to fall color.  Plus, it has glossy black edible berries to boot!  It can sucker quite a lot if grown in moist conditions, so beware.

Shrubs are great, but there are native perennials that provide color lower down.
Wild geraniums (Geranium viscosissimum and Geranium caespitosum) develop luminous red leaves in the fall.

Sulphur flower’s leaves turn bronze-red in the fall and are evergreen (ever-red?).  The rust-colored seed heads in the early fall provide a nice contrast.

Leafy cinquefoil (Drymocallis fissa) usually turns nice shades of red and green in the fall when it’s not too dry in August and September.  This year, it looks a little crispy since it’s been so long since it’s rained.

Little bluestem (Schizacyrium scoparium) is a fine grass for fall and winter interest.  The cultivar “Blaze” has been selected for particularly fine fall color.

This is just the beginning!  Get out there and look around, and enjoy the subtle and often not-so-subtle colors of a Colorado fall.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Aspen, cottonwood leaf diseases not lethal to trees, but could impact fall colors

(posted by Irene Shonle)

A Colorado State Forest Service Press release as a follow up to Mary Small's post:

FORT COLLINS, Colo., – Some stands of aspen and cottonwood trees across northern Colorado and along the Front Range won’t be their most picturesque this fall, due to leaf spot diseases that benefitted from an unusually wet spring and early summer. For about the past month, foresters have been seeing an unusually high degree of leaf blight in the mountains and along the Front Range, as far south as Aspen, the Collegiate Peaks and Colorado Springs.

At least two fungal diseases are to blame for the leaves now showing significant spotting or dark splotches. Marssonina leaf spot is caused by the Marssonina fungus and is the most common leaf disease of aspen and cottonwoods in Colorado. The disease can be identified by the presence of dark brown spots or flecks on leaves, which can then fuse into large, black splotches on severely infected leaves. Also active now, mainly on Colorado’s cottonwoods, the Septoria fungus initially causes tan spots that become irregular brown-to-black spots coalescing to cover much of the leaf by late summer.

“The good news is that these diseases rarely cause any permanent tree damage or death,” said Dan West, entomologist for the Colorado State Forest Service. “But this is the highest level our foresters have seen in many years for some parts of the state.”  

These fungi typically develop during wet, cool weather and generally cause only aesthetic tree damage. However, severe disease outbreaks occasionally cause some defoliation or dieback on impacted trees. West says trees with these leaf spot diseases can display noticeably less vibrant colors and can drop leaves prematurely, but often are mixed in among stands of healthy trees, so there should still be plenty of beautiful Colorado foliage for fall viewing. 

Fungicide sprays can prevent new leaf spot infections in the spring, but will not cure trees that are already infected. Because these fungi overwinter on fallen leaves infected the previous year, West says the best management option for homeowners this fall is sanitation. Get rid of any diseased material by raking up and disposing of infected leaves and twigs, to reduce spread of the disease next year. Also, always try to keep tree leaves as dry as possible to reduce future incidence of leaf spots by watering early in the morning rather than at night, and by keeping sprinkler patterns set to prevent over-wet leaves.

Regarding landowners with larger areas of aspen or cottonwood – of a scale that makes most management options impractical – West says maintaining space between trees helps prevents moisture from lingering too long on the leaves.

“This is a natural phenomenon, and despite how they look, these trees should leaf out again next year,” he said.

For more information about leaf spot concerns for aspen, cottonwood and other poplar species, go to