Friday, May 19, 2017

Cool Season Trial Garden Winners

Posted by James E. Klett, Professor and Extension Landscape Horticulturist

The 2016-17 Colorado State University Cool Season Trials are completed and the winners have been announced.  In this trial we evaluated 119 different varieties of pansies and Violas for their performance in the fall of 2016 and winter and spring of 2017.  We evaluated them on April 19, 2017 and sixteen varieties were given high honors.  Overall, the Cool Season Trial was probably the best one we had in the past ten years.  Plants were planted in October 2017, watered and fertilized initially and hand watered throughout the winter when temperatures were above 40° F and when there was no snow cover.  The plants still look excellent and we will keep them in the trials till after Memorial Day 2017.  We then will remove them since we need the space for our annual flower trials.

Five of the outstanding varieties in this trial include:

Best of Show Pansy – ‘Cool Wave Morpho’ from Pan American Seed
This pansy stole the show in our trial with vibrant flower colors which were a striking contrast between blue and yellow and were held up high for easy viewing.  The flowers were numerous totally covering the plant which attributed to the larger spreading growth habit.  The entire Cool Wave Series was noted to have exceptional vigor and flower power but ‘Cool Wave Morpho’ was considered the best of the series.

Best Yellow Pansy – ‘Matrix Yellow’ Improved by Pan American Seed
The huge flowers alone draws attention to this plant.  The clear yellow flower creates this plant.  The clear yellow flower creates an array of bright and sunny looking flowers.  This pansy would brighten up any landscape in the winter and early spring.

Best Purple Pansy – ‘Inspire Plus Denim’ by Benary
This pansy had a unique flower color which was shades of blue and purple on sturdy stems with excellent green foliage.  This pansy had an attractive face with eyes adding character to upward facing flowers.

Best of Show Viola – ‘Endurio Blue Yellow with Purple Wing’ by Syngenta
The spreading growth habit makes this viola very attractive for borders and nostalgic looking flowers that bring back the idea of old-school violas.  The eye catching blue yellow with purple wing flower color is guaranteed to make everyone feel happy.  It was also designated as the “Best Novelty” Viola.

Best White Viola – ‘Admire White’ by Benary
This viola demonstrates a uniform and tidy growth habit with a petite flower size.  Flower are a pure white and very floriferous.

These are just five of the fifteen winners and a complete listing can be viewed on and click on the Cool Season Trial tab.

You will want to include some of these varieties as you plan your cool season garden for the 2017-18 season.

Thursday, May 18, 2017


By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

Epiphyllums are wonderful and mostly low-maintenance houseplants. Epiphyllum is a genus in the cactus family CactaceaeThey’re also called “orchid cactus” (even though they are not orchids) -- and to the afficianados, they are affectionately dubbed “epis”. Epiphyllum are tropical (rather than desert) cacti, from oak forests and rainforests across Mexico and Central and South America. They are epiphytes (which are plants that grow on trees, but are not parasites).

 I have a big specimen that stuns me every year with knock-out flowers.   Mine just got done blooming a few days ago (sadly, each enormous bloom only lasts a couple of days).
Epiphyllum "Unforgettable" in full bloom.
However, I always have a problem with some of the buds dropping off before they bloom.  As the buds form in late winter, I gleefully count them in anticipation of a big show, but I’m usually met with some disappointment, since all but about 4 or 5 of them usually shrivel up. 
Shriveled bud about to fall off

 This year, I decided I don’t want to put up with that in the future, so I looked more carefully into their care.

The first tip is to make sure the soil is well-draining, yet holds some moisture.  One suggestion is to use three parts potting soil mixed with one part of coarse non-organic material such as perlite. Check. 

The second is to stop watering entirely in November until buds start to form in March (this is only for blooming-size plants). I have been following this practice for years, although the first year I was nervous that I would kill the plant. Once the buds form, the advice is to water regularly, imitating the rainy season, but to not overwater the plant. Thinking I may have inadvertently overwatered last year by giving them their regular watering, I watered quite sparingly after bud formation this year, and still had the same issue. The rest of the year, water when the top part of the soil dries out.  Check.

The third is to keep the plant in an area with cool nights (mid-thirties to mid-fifties) and bright, indirect light while buds are forming in in the winter. Check. The room they are in gets down to the high fifties every night, and that seems to work fine.

Next tip is that the plants bloom best when they are root-bound. One group of 'epi' fans say to only re-pot if absolutely necessary, and another suggests repotting every year to replenish the soil. I have followed the advice of the first group, probably mostly due to laziness.

The last tip is to fertilize regularly during the growing season, and I think this is where I need some fine-tuning.  I fertilize pretty minimally, and have never paid too much attention to it, so I think here might be some room for improvement.  The flowers form on the active growth from the previous summer, so a regular fertilizer and watering regime is supportive at this stage. 

After researching a bit, I plan to feed each watering time from May to late August with a balanced formulation like 10-10-10 or 5-5-5. From August to November, I will try only fertilizing every other watering time (that’s going to be a challenge to remember!). Because epiphyllums are used to low nutrient environments, I plan to only use about one-third to one-half the amount of fertilizer that is recommended on the label. From August to November, I’ll use a low or no nitrogen fertilizer ( i.e.; 2-10-10 or a 0-10-10 formulation).

And we’ll see what happens sometime next May!

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Cold snap alert: cover those plants

By Carol O'Meara, CSU Extension Boulder County

The cold snap predicted for Thursday and Friday is not going to be kind to the garden.  Yes, we can use the rain, but the snow and below freezing temps means gardeners should get ready to cover up.  Grab tarps, plastic sheets, buckets, and keep your therapist on speed dial for the inevitable call to cry on their shoulder; this freeze is catching us after we’ve planted.

Tender vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers, napa cabbage, or squash should be capped with an extra bucket, coffee can, Mason jar – anything that will trap the heat from the soil.  If the planted area is too large for individual buckets, set up a tent to cover the plants with plastic.  The trick is to trap the soil heat, so ensure that the plastic reaches the ground on all sides.  Weigh it down so the wind doesn’t blow it to Kansas and keep the plastic from touching the plants you’d like to protect.

Potatoes, onions, beets, and other root crops nosing up from the soil will be fine under a thick, warm blanket of mulch.  Pile the straw or grass clippings up over the plants to keep them snug under at least six inches of mulch.  You can uncover them after the freeze is over.

There’s not much we can do for the trees but if you have smaller perennials or roses you’d like to protect, swaddle them in plastic as well.  If possible, pull containers into the garage to protect them or cover them with buckets or plastic.  To keep pots from freezing, group them close together and stack bales of straw around them, then cap them with a blanket or tarp.

Make sure that you uncover the plants as soon as the cold snap passes by; things heat up very quickly under plastic and you don’t want to steam cook your plants.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

April Frost brings May concerns

Mother’s Day is fast approaching and away should go the chance for frost and freezes in the Grand Valley and other low lying areas of Colorado.  Unfortunately the last weekend of April and three weeks prior we had some late cold temperatures.  Many plants were a good month ahead on growing because our February and March had been so warm.  The first of the frost/freeze wasn’t too bad.  Most of our fruit crop just had a good thinning and some just the lower limbs were affected.  Areas that were lower, like my residence in Fruita, got much colder.  I lost all my peaches and plum fruit for this year and my apples were thinned heavily.  We tend to forget that cold settles.  I had tried covering my smaller trees, but when you get down to 21 degrees F, a cover doesn’t do it.  

The Palisade area was much warmer (29 plus) and with orchard fans running were able to avoid great damage; then came the second frost April 29th and 30th.  I didn’t see much more fruit damage; it is dependent on the bud or fruit stage and how cold it gets for several hours or more.  But I did see many large ornamental trees get hit hard by the cold.  They were just at the right point of expansion of the leaves. I have noticed cold damaged foliage on cottonwoods, sycamores, elm, honey-locust and oak.  
Cold damage on a baby Kentucky Coffeetree in our Nursery area- SLC

Even Siberian Elms showed some cold damage- notice the larger leaves on the tips-
New foliage is now emerging- SLC

My potatoes had damage to the edges of the top leaves and we have had some shrub samples come in with cold damage.  I found a good handout for preventing frost damage from Arizona Extension.

SO what do you do if you had cold damage?  Many people at first want to cut off some of the damage or fertilize.  If the tree was in good health, a second set of leaves should emerge.  Give it time.  Patience has its virtue.  Don’t prune until new shoots have emerged; then remove the dead.   And don’t fertilize.  This plant is under stress from the frost damage.  We don’t want to try to force it to grow and cause more stress.  

Susan's potato plant with frost damage

Here is a link to how and when to fertilize: Keep the tree watered but don’t overdue. With some patience and good basic care, your tree and other damaged plants can come back as long as they had some reserved energy and the temperature didn’t get too cold for the particular plant.  So now that we have gotten the freezing temperatures out of the way, it’s time to plant our tomatoes in Grand Junction and wish mom Happy Mothers Day!
Plant Select plant: Scutellaria resinosa 'Smoky Hills'
Didn't see any cold damage on it.
Happy Mother's Day

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

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Junipers: Love 'em or hate 'em?

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Junipers. Every time you mention this plant, you get a variety of reactions--anything from the wrinkled nose to the nod of appreciation. Junipers seem to be one of those "love 'em or hate 'em" plants.
Junipers! Sited properly at Centerra Shopping Mall in Loveland.
For those who've heard me teach, I'm usually trash-talking these sturdy evergreen plants. But I recently had an epiphany: I don't actually hate junipers; I hate what people do to them.
Juniper "art"? (Photo by Eric Hammond)
I hate that people shear them within an inch of their life. I hate that people whack them back to keep them from growing on the sidewalk. I hate that people put them in the wrong spot and then torture the junipers (through pruning) to get them to behave.
Sheared. To death. (Photo by Deryn Davidson)
Stay off the lawn, juniper! (Photo by Eric Hammond)
Sited properly, junipers are, quite possibly, one of the most tolerant, drought-loving plants we have in the nursery trade. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colors and are one of the few plants that can actually fit into the "I have a 5-foot wide space but need a plant that grows 20 feet tall" request.

Did I really just defend junipers? Wow.

But really, junipers definitely have a place in the landscape, but it needs to be the right place. Sure, they collect trash and other debris and it's nearly impossible to remove grass growing through the foliage, and pruning them properly results in an itchy rash on the body, but they can look quite nice. And while they are a favorite of voles, they are a sturdy groundcover.
Junipers and all sorts of ugly. But a good plant choice for this location!
So give junipers a chance...a fighting chance. A legitimate chance to do good. And don't mistreat them or plan on shearing them. In their natural shape, junipers can be quite attractive. But when humans get involved, that's where things get ugly. What do you think? Did I convince any of you to appreciate this plant, even a little?

Monday, May 1, 2017

Saving Seed

Written by Yvette Henson
CSU Extension San Miguel and West Montrose Counties

When our ancestors came to the U.S., the often brought seeds with them, seeds from home.  These seeds were important because they were a source of food—often the seeds they brought were of plants that were a culturally important food, a medicine or a favorite door yard flower.  These seeds planted something from the homeland into the new land and they might have preserved a long time heirloom.  Many indigenous cultures have and still preserve their own regionally adapted plant varieties by saving the seed.  In the early days of our country the USDA had a seed giveaway program.  It was often the local Extension Agent who was responsible to distribute these seeds to local people.  Around this same time, there were many seed companies who sold many varieties of seeds.  In the early to mid-1900’s things began to change -- less people lived on small family farms, less people gardened at home and hybrid seeds were developed.  There were fewer regional seed companies and many varieties were lost.  (See the following diagram.)

Preventing further loss of genetic diversity in our seed source is just one reason to make the extra effort it takes to properly save seeds.  Here are a few more reasons to consider:
  • To preserve a cultural or heritage seed
  • To develop or maintain regional, farm or garden adapted varieties
  • To be more resilient or self sufficient
  • To ensure you have a source of your favorite varieties
  • To share!
  • Save money (the labor and space needed may not always result in savings)
  • For a fun challenge
  • To be in partnership with nature
  • It’s really ‘local’

Following are some basic terms that one needs to understand in order to save seed successfully. 

Open Pollinated (OP) varieties can produce stable offspring that breed true to type if properly managed.  “Stable” means there will be consistent uniformity between individuals in the plant population grown from the seeds saved.   OP varieties are allowed to cross pollinate in the field.  Open pollinated varieties can be just as vigorous as F1 hybrids, depending on selection.  OP varieties are not hybrids and they are not always heirlooms.
Definitions differ for what an heirloom plant variety is.  The most common definition of an heirloom is a variety that has been grown, seeds saved and regrown for at least 50 years.  But to others a variety that is being maintained by a family or in a region and passed down, even if it hasn’t been done for as long as 50 years is an heirloom.  Usually an heirloom is an OP variety but not always.  For instance, a noteworthy hybrid developed by a famous plant breeder in the past might be considered an heirloom by some.

Hybrid varieties result from natural or unnatural pollination between genetically distinct parents of a species.  Commercially, the parents used to produce hybrids (F1) are usually inbred for specific characteristics.  Hybrids can have increased uniformity and sometimes increased vigor and disease resistance, than either of the parent plants.  Seed saved from hybrids will not grow true-to-type and sometimes it’s sterile.

GMO’s (Genetically Modified Organism) varieties have had genes have inserted into their DNA.  The genes that are inserted are often from different species, genera, or even kingdoms.  Most, if not all, GMO varieties are hybrids but not all hybrids are GMO’s.  

The basic steps to save seed successfully are:
  • Start with an open pollinated variety so you can get plants true to type.
  • Learn about the characteristics and needs of the species of plant that you are growing so you can grow it to be as healthy and productive as possible. 
  • Knowledge about your plant species will give you the information you need to protect your variety from cross pollination with related plants.  This can be done by planting a single variety, by covering and/or hand pollinating or by separating similar varieties by enough distance to prevent cross pollination. 
  • Plant a large enough population size to get adequate pollination among your plants to maintain genetic vigor of your seed.  Save seeds from the healthiest plants that have the traits that you want and get rid of the plants that don’t.
  • Harvest at the correct time to get good seed.  This may mean you don’t get to eat all of the fruit of your labor—some plants might need to be saved for seed. 
  • Process your seed for the type of plant it is. 
  • Store your seed properly to ensure it remains viable.   Generally, keep seeds dry, cool and dark.  Replant and repeat!   Over time, you will get a more locally adapted variety with the characteristics you want and that will perform well in your area.
Things are coming back around.  More people are gardening at home, there are an increasing number of small farms, plant breeders, seed companies and non-profits dedicated to finding, developing and preserving seed varieties and genetics.  Community seed libraries and seed banks are sprouting up everywhere! 

If you want to know more about Saving Seeds see the following resources:
CSU Extension Fact Sheets: 
Organic Seed Alliance
Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance
Seed to Seed: Seed Saving and Growing Techniques for Vegetable Gardeners by Suzanne Ashworth and Kent Whealy, Seed Saver Exchange, 2nd Edition, 2002.
The Seed Garden: The Art and Practice of Seed Saving, Butalla, Lee and Siegel, Shanyn, Seed Savers Exchange.  2015.
Breed Your Own Vegetable Varieties by Carol Deppe.  Chelsea Green, 2nd Edition, 2010.