Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Home Invasion of the Creepy Crawlies

Sitting here in my Grand Junction office, it doesn’t seem like fall since it is 72 degrees outside although the trees are showing beautiful colors.  But the insects are telling us that it is time to get ready for colder weather.  We have had many samples come into our office the last few weeks.   These insects are just looking for a warm place to rest for the winter and your home seems like a good place to them.  Some of these insects like a large cat-faced spider who was so fat she could hardly walk are pretty cool.  Extension is one of those places that you can find us odd people who actually like bugs.  Miss Cat-face got released into our perennial border.
Cat-faced Spider, Photo by Bob Hammon

These insects include many types of spiders, millipedes, ladybugs, boxelder bugs and other seed bugs among the many others that are looking for a winter home.  Most of these insects can be simply swept or vacuumed up.  Luckily this invasion only lasts a few weeks if you aren’t too creeped out.  But if you want to know other methods to get rid of them Colorado State University has some fact sheets. 
I recently had a gal that had a gal that called and said she had insects that roll up and she called them crunchies because when you step on them they crunch.  Most times we need more of a description than that but that day I actually guessed the right insect and sent her the following factsheet.
Milipedes, Centipedes and Sowbugs and Pillbugs aka Roly-Poly

Pillbug, Photo by Bob Hammon

Milipedes, centipedes, sowbugs and pillbugs primarily eat organic matter that is decaying.  However, the last two years we say some vegetables gardens with high populations of these insects specifically the sowbugs and pillbugs were eating fresh vegetables.  One thing that contributed to this issue was that way too much organic matter had been applied to the garden attracting the insects in high numbers.  Another factor may be the mild winters we have had on the western slope so more insects are making it through the winter.  Maybe too many are getting inside to keep warm.  Sorry, that may give some of you the heebie jeebies.   Told you, some of us Extension people are bug nerds.
Spiders are large and more apparent at this time of year with foliage falling off most plants.  The good news is we have very few spiders that are poisonous to people in Colorado. The most prominent poisonous spider is the Black Widow and luckily she is pretty shy.  She makes a web that is very messy.  And look for the red hour glass on her abdomen to identify her.  Just make sure that you always know where you are reaching.  We had a gal that has an outdoor shower and reached up to open the curtain and something bit her.  When they looked they found a spider. And the squashed the spider before they brought it to us.  By the time I got it to an entomologist on the Front Range, it was too damaged to id with the exception that it was not a Black Widow or Brown Recluse.   Spiders tend to get a bad image but they are great eaters of other unwanted insects so instead of squishing try catching and releasing.  And if you need something identified by one of our offices, please do not kill it by stepping on it.  We need a fresh sample.
Boxelder Bug, Photo by Bob Hammon

Boxelder bugs are red and black insects that are eat the seeds of the Boxelder tree.  The best way to avoid attracting them is to plant a male boxelder tree.  A good cultivar is Acer negundo ‘Sensation’.  The insect is harmless to us accept for the fact that they can get into the house.  See our fact sheet for other ideas.
If you have other insects coming into your house, bring a non-squished sample to your local CSU Extension office for identification.  And don’t get too freaked out, they are just looking for a winter home.  Best bet is to find out where they are coming from.  And put those spiders back outside so they can be around for Halloween. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why CSU’s New Stadium Should be Real Grass – and why it Probably Isn’t

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

Hughes Stadium turf  (yes, real grass!) in 2002, the night prior to
an epic nationally televised Rams victory over Louisville (36-33). It
WAS the best playing surface in the Mountain West Conference.
This past Monday it was announced that CSU’s freshman sensation quarterback, Collin Hill, suffered a season-ending ACL injury during Saturday’s victory over Utah State (you can read about it here). Why am I writing about this in a blog focused on horticulture? Stick with me, even if you aren’t into sports or aren’t a CSU football fan, and you will hopefully see the connection.

As noted in the article, this was a non-contact injury – meaning that Hill wasn’t injured by being tackled or hit by another player. Quoting CSU coach Mike Bobo: “It was non-contact. He was just planting off his left foot, and it buckled. Tough thing for Collin, tough for our football team.” Just bad luck, right? Football injuries happen – usually the result of a collision with another player, being tackled, being fallen upon, etc. And, yes, injuries happen on both types of field surface – synthetic and natural grass. But does it really matter if football is played on grass or synthetic turf?

A close-up of the old Hughes Stadium natural grass playing surface.
Better than synthetic!
Companies that promote the use of their synthetic turf over natural grass for athletic fields vigorously state that their synthetic surfaces are safer for athletes, less expensive and easier to maintain, that they are environmentally friendly – and that they are “just like real grass” (OK, so why even bother with the comparison, if you are better?). These claims are made during the “sell” to athletic directors, coaches, booster groups, school boards, city councils, etc. The claims (especially about money and cost-savings) make it seem like the decision to use synthetic over real grass is a no-brainer and that it would be irresponsible to spend money on grass fields. These “selling points” work – even on otherwise intelligent people – because there is RARELY anyone present when decisions are made to provide evidence to the contrary: that natural grass MIGHT be a better choice than synthetic for a HOST of legitimate, provable reasons.

It was such a big game that there were 2 Cams
there for some reason? They could (and did!) graze
on the stadium turf then. And it was safer for the
players too!
I will honestly state that synthetic turf, in some situations, is often the VERY BEST playing surface for a school to install. But there are so many times when it can be argued that real grass is the most sensible, common-sense choice. The problem is that decision-makers often don’t ask the right questions (about safety and cost), discount and ignore arguments for using real grass, believe without question what the synthetic companies claim, and often bow to the sentiment that “everyone else is doing it, so we have to because it must be the right thing to do”.  Often, the promise of funding to install synthetic (but ONLY synthetic because that’s what a donor or booster group wants for their team or their coach) overrides any other reasoning to consider grass. Worse still, the decision is often made by a coach – who is both highly unqualified to make such an important decision and is also highly unlikely to still be coaching that team when that synthetic turf needs to be replaced.

I could write an entire blog on cost comparisons of installing, maintaining, and replacing the two types of surfaces – but perhaps some other time. However, if you want to read some very compelling evidence that synthetic often does NOT make financial sense, here is an excellent article in Forbes magazine on the topic entitled “How Taxpayers get Fooled on the Cost of an Artificial Turf Field”. It’s quite lengthy, but compelling and difficult to argue with – unless you are a synthetic turf company that isn’t totally forthcoming on costs of maintenance and replacement. The national Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) also provides a great comparison of costs to maintain these different playing surfaces. Fodder for a future blog!

More important than cost, however, is safety. Which is safer for football players from an injury perspective: grass or synthetic? Synthetic companies will tie themselves in knots to make synthetic appear safer for athletes than real grass. But what does research say about injuries on these two surfaces?

Divots in a natural grass field act as "circuit breakers" when a player's
foot locks in the turf - giving way so that the ligaments and tendons
in knees and ankles are less likely to.
In a study entitled “The effect of playing surface on the incidence of ACL injuries in National Collegiate Athletic Association American Football”, the authors analyzed the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Injury Surveillance System (ISS) men's football ACL injury database from 2004-2005 through 2008-2009 to determine what effects that playing surface might have on ACL injury in NCAA football athletes. They found that the rate of ACL injury on artificial surfaces is 1.39 times higher than the injury rate on grass. Specifically, they found that non-contact injuries occurred more frequently on artificial turf surfaces (44.29%) than on natural grass (36.12%), and concluded that “NCAA football players experience a greater number of ACL injuries when playing on artificial surfaces.” This begs the very simple question: why install a playing surface (when you have a choice) that is PROVEN to increase the potential for injury to student athletes?

In a similar study that examined injury rate in NFL players (An analysis of specific lower extremity injury rates on grass and FieldTurf playing surfaces in National Football League Games: 2000-2009 seasons), the authors found that “the observed injury rates of ACL sprains and eversion ankle sprains on FieldTurf surfaces were 67% (P < .001) and 31% (P < .001) higher than on grass surfaces and were statistically significant”. No comment needed on these numbers, as they speak for themselves! (FieldTurf is a specific brand of synthetic turf, and is what is currently installed in Hughes Stadium).

While not a Baltimore Ravens fan (remember that awful playoff game in January 2013?), they are to be applauded for replacing their synthetic field with real grass this year. The Ravens players lobbied ownership to make the change to grass. “To a man, players said they would rather play on natural grass than artificial turf,” says Don Follett, M&T Bank Stadium’s senior director of fields and rounds. “That’s consistent with NFL surveys showing that 90 to 95 percent of the league’s players prefer real grass. They say it feels better under their feet and provides a softer landing when they get knocked down. If your players feel better, they’re more likely to play better for you, and that carries a lot of weight.”

Rendering of new CSU practice fields (Source: CSU Source; Colorado State
Finally, another article in the Coloradoan this week noted that construction on a new SYNTHETIC practice field adjacent to the new stadium will begin this Saturday. It is part of a larger project that will “… serve as a gateway to the stadium, with plantings to celebrate and demonstrate the university’s agricultural heritage”. Simple question: how does a carpet covered with smelly, ground-up rubber celebrate “agricultural heritage”? Just asking....

Contrary to many of my colleagues here at CSU and possibly many readers of this blog, I was (and still am) fully supportive of the new stadium. But that doesn’t mean I can’t ask the question: why install a playing surface that is proven to increase the potential for injury to student athletes when we have the opportunity and resources available to install real grass? After all, if the CU Buffaloes can maintain a real grass stadium (used for graduation, as a stage for the Boulder Bolder, and to host concerts and numerous other events), certainly Colorado’s Land-Grant university could do the same? Go Rams... but don’t let Cam do any grazing on your fields.
University of Colorado's beautiful grass Folsom Field
(Source:Kai Casey/CU Independent)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

All America Enchanting Pumpkins

Posted by Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

When I plant my garden each year, two things are guaranteed to happen: I arrogantly predict which crop is going to be a beauty that year, and Mother Nature responds by turning a different crop into the blockbuster.  We’ve never seen eye to eye so it came as no surprise to me that, this year, pumpkins ran amok in the garden.

So prolific and early were the pumpkins that I had fully ripe ones before harvesting a single cucumber from the patch.  The vines climbed up and over beds, roses, and sunflowers to reach the front yard.  Friends touring the garden often started counting all of the orange gourds, only to stop in exhaustion because of the sheer number of fruit before them.  Tall, flat, round, and itty-bitty, this is the year of the pumpkin for us.

I blame All America Selections for this.  Between their Cinderella’s Carriage, Sorcerer, Wee-B-Little, and Pepitas, there are pumpkins all over the place.  Each one has endearing attributes and, though all are orange, they serve very different purposes.
Cinderella's Carriage, Courtesy AAS
Cinderella’s Carriage:  AAS describes this as a fairy tale type pumpkin, but don’t worry – it doesn’t reach out and grab toddlers like one of the Grimm Brothers’ tales.  Cinderella’s Carriage is eager to grow and shakes off trouble from Powdery Mildew.  The flat, round fruits are bright red and bake up sweet and nutty, perfect for fall soups, stews, or side dishes.

Sorcerer, Courtesy AAS

 Sorcerer:  If you want a big, traditional Jack O’ Lantern, Sorcerer has all the right magic.  It has a deep orange color with light ribbing that give it a classic pumpkin look.  These were the ones rambling along the garden and spellbinding passersby; their size and gorgeous coloring had neighbors and friends commenting on them.

Wee-B-Little Courtesy AAS
Wee-B-Little: a round, adorable little pumpkin that is the perfect miniature of its larger cousins.  A 1999 introduction stays fairly compact for its ilk; only eight feet of shoulder room is needed for the vines.  The tiny, eight-ounce gourds tuck nicely into cornucopias, on desks, as centerpieces, or entry table d├ęcor.  As a bonus, they make an unforgettable side dish to meals when baked like winter squash.  The flavor is nutty, slightly sweet.  Leave them whole for culinary drama, but pierce them before roasting whole. 

Pepitas, Courtesy AAS
Pepitas:  The real winner in this year’s pumpkin patch was this gorgeous little pumpkin.  With stripes and speckles of green against an orange background, this was the plant that produced and ripened fruit before the cucumbers even thought about flowering.  From a cook’s perspective, Pepitas has what its larger cousins don’t: naked seeds.  So if you love pumpkin seeds but not the dry hull, go naked with Pepitas. 
Help your pumpkin last with these tips:

-  Strong stems keep the pumpkin fresh, so look for those that are fully attached to the skin.
 -  Choose firm, not mushy pumpkins.  Avoid those with cuts in the skin; they’ll rot quickly.

 -  Keep your pumpkin cool, not freezing or overly hot.   Store away from direct sunlight, and bring it in if frost is predicted.

Once your pumpkin is picked and safely home, keep it fresh and ready for the big night with these tips:
- Wait to carve your pumpkin until one or two days before Halloween.

- Scrape out the walls to a thickness of one inch for easiest carving.
- Immediately after carving, smear petroleum jelly over the interior and cut surfaces to lock moisture in.

- Pumpkins wilt in three days; perk yours up by soaking it in water.  Mix one teaspoon of bleach to one gallon of water to prevent mold from growing.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Wear Rose Colored Glasses in Aftermath of Freeze

Posted by Mary Small, State Master Gardener program coordinator

We all know that sometimes Nature can be downright cruel in the garden. Like most gardeners, I don’t like early freezes in the fall and late ones in the spring. I immensely dislike psyllid infestations on my tomatoes. But sometimes the perceived “cruelty” or “problem” can also be beautiful. So put on some rose-colored glasses for the next few moments.

Webbing reflected in light
Yesterday there was rain, hail and then finally a freeze last night in Fort Collins. (I never understand how it can be cloudy all day long and then clear at night - something seems wrong with that picture, but I digress.)  It was obvious this morning that some annuals had bitten the dust. So I went out to take pictures of the damage  for use in my classes and while doing that, discovered beauty.
Look at the intricate webbing  within these impatiens! I would have missed it if the plants weren’t damaged by the cold and still covering it up.

While unsuccessfully taking a picture of ladybug pupae on this tomato (see background) I found these water droplets being held aloft by the trichomes.  

Trichomes on tomato
There were also a lot of water droplets on this geranium.

What do you think about these two “new” varieties of zinnia? I’m not sure why the damage(browning) appears in this pattern, although I suspect it has to do with petal maturity and the accompanying ability to withstand different levels of cold. 
Next time there's a freeze in your area, take a few minutes to breathe deeply, assess the damage and look around with a pair of rose-colored glasses. I think you'll be amazed what awaits you!

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Design a Native Plant Garden - upcoming webinar

Have you ever wanted to design a native plant garden or expand an existing one?  You won’t want to miss this class - Webinar – Designing a Native Plant Garden, scheduled for Thursday, November 3 from noon to 1 p.m. From the comfort of your home or office, you’ll learn how to design and develop your very own native plant garden. 

This webinar is a fundraiser for the statewide Native Plant Master Program, with all proceeds going to benefit the program, so please consider registering to support this CSU Extension program. Meet the presenter here. Register at

This online class will be taught by Deryn Davidson, Horticulture Agent with CSU Extension in Boulder County. Deryn was formerly a horticulturist at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Register at For more information, contact or call 303-271-6621.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Overseeding Bare Spots in the Lawn

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

It was a hot, dry summer. And if you had any irrigation issues in your lawn, you've probably got some bare spots. Or spots from foot traffic, rabbit feeding, urine injury, etc. In my lawn, it's from beagle traffic.
"Who me?" says Maple the beagle.  You can see her footpath past the chicken coop and to the bird feeder, where she (and Hazel, back of photo) love to munch on black oiler sunflower seeds. Sigh.
Fall is a great time to seed these spots for a couple of reasons. First, the weather is pretty much perfect: warm days, cool nights and the possibility of rain. Second, the soil is warm and will stay warm through October (this, of course, will vary where you are in Colorado...and the U.S.). But grass seed, like humans, prefers moderate temperatures in the 70s. Because the soils are warm, the seed will germinate very quickly...great for those of us who have little patience.

Depending on the size of the area you need to reseed, you can approach it a couple ways. The main points of overseeding are to make holes in the ground and get the seed into those holes. Seed needs contact with soil to germinate (that's why topdressing with seed on the soil surface is rarely the seed can dry out). You can make holes in a number of ways--rent an aerator or have aeration done for you...or do it manually with tools you have in the garage.

The goal is the same for both methods--lots and lots and lots and LOTS of holes. You can't make too many holes. We recommend making "Swiss cheese" out of the lawn. If you use an aerification machine, mark your sprinkler heads to avoid damage. If you're paying someone to do it for you, emphasize that you want a lot of holes! Request they make holes in multiple directions across the area that needs to be seeded.

Below are photos of "manual" overseeding with a's a great workout!

Step 1. Collect your tools and equipment: Seed, water (hose or sprinkler), pitchfork and leaf rake.
Like my dad always says, make sure you have everything on hand before starting a project...
Step 2. Make your holes. Lots and lots and lots and LOTS of holes. Try to get the holes at least an inch deep. This area was heavily compacted from beagle traffic. It's kind of a fun stress relief, but it does take some effort. The better job you do making holes, the better results you'll have. So take your time and do a thorough job.
Poke yer holes! Lots and lots and lots of holes!
Step 3. Admire your work. You should see your holes and roughed up the bare spots. The goal is to get holes on a maximum of 2" centers in all directions....the closer the holes are, the better!
If you look really closely, you can see the holes.
Step 4. Seed selection is important. It's best to seed what you already have planted. In my backyard, I have a mixture of mostly bluegrass with some tall fescue and perennial ryegrass. This seed mix I'm using has all three. Likely what will survive is the bluegrass (it has amazing traffic tolerance). If you're using one species, aim for 3-5 pounds of bluegrass/1000 square feet; 6-8 pounds of perennial ryegrass/1000 square feet and 6-8 pounds of tall fescue/1000 square feet. Seed quality is also important--it's not more expensive to buy good seed. Look at the label of your seed to make sure you don't plant weeds or undesirable grass species.
My seed's about 50% tall fescue and 35% perennial ryegrass and bluegrass. Works for me!
The seed itself! 
Step 5. Lightly, like you are adding salt to your food, sprinkle the seed on top of the area where you just made holes. If you put out too much seed, the seedlings will all compete with each other and never mature. Juvenile seedlings will be wimpy and likely die over winter. Just like with pesticides, more (seed) is NOT better! 
Lightly sprinkle the seed over the area.
Step 6. After seeding, use a leaf rake to work the seed into the holes. This is a gentle process. You're just lightly pressing the rake to the ground. The seed that works into the holes will germinate best. You do not need to "topdress" with any sand, soil or peat moss. Really, I promise! Just work the seed into the holes.
Hazel is thinking "But you're in my way of walking to the bird feeder!" Use a leaf rake to gently work the seed into the aeration holes.
Step 7. Water in the seed. Depending on the daytime temperature, you may have to water a few times a week, but only just to keep things moist. Seed will need water to germinate, so don't skip this step. If you still have your sprinkler system running, that will likely be sufficient. But check these areas for dryness. 
For bigger areas, put out a sprinkler attached to your hose. You can even set a timer to have it automatically water a few minutes each day.
Perennial ryegrass will germinate in just a few days...bluegrass will take about 10 days. Maintain your lawn as normal--there's no need to avoid the seeded areas with your mower. And go ahead and apply your fall fertilizer--just avoid using any herbicides near your seeded spots. In a few weeks, you can admire your new turf...from your couch as you watch football. Check it off your list--one more fall garden task complete!

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?