Monday, March 19, 2018

No, it's NOT crabgrass - yet!

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

Young cheatgrass growing in a mulched flowerbed this week
in Fort Collins. No,this isn't crabgrass!

It’s that time of the year. People are seeing “different” grasses in their landscapes – and they are usually unattractive. So, of course, it MUST be crabgrass! Here’s the problem: crabgrass is a summer annual weed that won’t be germinating through most of Colorado until sometime in April (at the EARLIEST), and more likely in May. This grass needs soil temperatures to be consistently around 55 F (surface inch) for germination to occur. It’s still a little early and chilly for it to begin growing.

Young cheatgrass will QUICKLY look
like this with a few weeks of warm
So if it’s not crabgrass, what are people seeing? One likely culprit is cheatgrass (aka downy bromegrass – Bromus tectorum). Cheatgrass is a winter annual – meaning that it germinates around here in fall or late winter. The young seedling cheatgrass doesn’t grow much in fall or spring – until we get a stretch of warm days (60s-70s). Warm spring temperatures cause explosive growth, flowering, and then seed production. It’s pretty much at the end of its life by June – when it turns brown, dies, and drops its annoying seeds. The seeds it drops in June will germinate in the fall…and the cycle continues.

Cheatgrass is one of the most troublesome and common weeds throughout the western U.S. It’s another one of those nasty introduced weed species that came to the U.S. sometime in the 1890s and has spread throughout much of the U.S. It has become one of the most important agricultural and rangeland weeds in the West. The rapid, aggressive growth and prodigious seed production enable it to dominate native plants ecosystems – and make it a nuisance in urban landscapes.

The key to managing annual weeds like cheatgrass
is to prevent seed production.
As with all annual weeds, effective management centers on prevention of seed formation. By preventing new seeds, populations of this weed can be effectively eliminated in a few years because its seeds live for only a few years in the soil after falling from the plant (the seeds of some weed species can live for 30-40 years+ in the soil!).

In the flower or vegetable garden, cheatgrass can be easily pulled because it has a very shallow root system when young. Mowing doesn’t control it as the weed will quickly adapt to mowing and form viable seed close to the soil surface. Larger patches can be sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup, Kleenup) on warm days (70 F or greater is best) or one of the many "natural" burndown products (it may take several applications of the "natural" products).

Cheatgrass is easily pulled because
it is shallow-rooted.
As for crabgrass, its time is coming. Now would be a good time to apply a crabgrass preventer in places like Grand Junction and Pueblo; in cooler parts of the state it is OK to go later – but probably no later than April 15th.

We’ve blogged in the past on other grasses that people often call “crabgrass”: quackgrass, bromegrass, tall fescue. Go here to read about other grasses that are mistakenly called crabgrass.

Go here to see what crabgrass really looks like, and for more pics of crabgrass look-alikes.

If cheatgrass matures before you can pull it or
spray it, mow it very short, bag the seeds, and put
in the trash (not your compost pile!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Battle of the Mice

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

The mice have invaded Henny Lane (my chicken run).
"Say whaaaaaaat!?" asks Dear Prudence.
Like many of my fellow hortie bloggers (Curtis, Susan and Cassey), I have a backyard chicken flock. Yes, they are pets and also have names: Dear Prudence, Lovely Rita, Polyethene Pam, Dizzy Miss Lizzy and Anna. You may sense a theme...
Henny Lane (Windsor, Colo.)
I've been tending my flock for nearly four years and lived in blissful ignorance that I never had a mouse problem. Now, I'm sure there were mice...but I didn't see them. Until recently. It started when a mouse kept getting into the feeder. A rat-proof feeder, mind you. It was the WORST. I would lift the lid in the morning to check the feed level and twice I found a mouse scrambling to get out. I'm sure my neighbors wondered why there was shrieking (and cussing) in the early morning.

So we had a mouse. But yeah, I know. It's never just one mouse. One night, as I went to close the coop door, mice (plural!) ran over my feet. And that was it. I declared Mice War. (Now, before you judge, please know that I am a huge animal advocate. I break for squirrels. Rabbits are cute. I catch and release spiders. I don't like to kill anything...but mice are dirty, vile and can have a host of diseases that are harmful to me, the dogs and my chickens.)

Traps. And chicken treats!
The Mice War has been going on for five days and we've caught and killed 13 mice so far (a baker's dozen!). Dad has assured me that it's likely a dent in the population.
The official dead mouse count. (The quote has nothing to do with mice. I just love "Caddyshack".)
Dad also told me that mice have babies every 20 days. Thanks dad. So I will continue to trap until I go at least five days without a catch.

We have given the mice their own jar of peanut butter.
This weekend I'm going to try to find and locate their nests--with additional shrieking and cussing, I'm sure. I suspect they've found a cozy spot underneath the plastic storage bin next to the chicken run.
Maple is pretty sure this is where the mice are nesting. By the way, beagles are not good mice hunters.
I have to say, it's difficult to trap mice when you have both dogs and chickens to think about. Poison baits are dangerous for non-target mammals (plus, you have to think of the risk of an animal eating the poisoned mouse) and traps left out during the day would likely be set off by the nose of a beagle or pecking chicken. So mouse-hunting, in my yard, happens from dusk to dawn using only snap traps. I am working on cleaning up the spilled feed (a difficult task) and eliminating other food sources.
Lovely Rita is happy the mice populations are decreasing.
The biggest lesson here is that anytime you are feeding outdoor animals (birds, squirrels, ducks, dogs), you're going to have mice. So setting out a few traps periodically is a good practice. Just keep everyone safe in the process. For more information, check out this U of Maryland publication.
Happy chickens and happy beagle.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

2018 Plant Color of the Year is Purple!

Posted by:  Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin Extension

The 2018 color of the year is purple and purple plants are listed as one of the top gardening trends for 2018.

Purple can be perceived as either a warm color or a cool color, depending on what colors it is adjacent to.  A purple-blue-green combination will appear cool while a purple-red-orange-yellow combination will appear warm.  Cool colors are relaxing and cooling and warm colors are stimulating and warming. 

When designing your garden with purple plants, keep in mind that the color purple recedes into the background so you will only enjoy your purple plants up close.  To make your garden with purple plants ‘pop’, provide contrast with complimentary colors (oranges and yellows).  You can also add interest and contrast with contrasting color and texture in plant foliage. 

Purple coloring in plants is due to water-soluble pigments in the plants called anthocyanins.  They are responsible for the colors red, purple, and blue in fruits and vegetables. They have antioxidative and antimicrobial properties, improve visual and neurological health, and protect against various diseases in humans and animals.

Anthocyanins are associated with many different plant/animal interactions. These include the attraction of pollinators as well as animals that survive on fruit.  They can also repel herbivores and parasites.

Following are a few of my personal favorite purple plants that I have grown, both ornamental and edible.

First off is my favorite purple cabbage: ‘Mammoth Red Rock’. 

Brassica oleracea var. capitata ‘Mammoth Red Rock’ is an open-pollinated heirloom cabbage variety from 1889.  They average 4-7 pounds when mature.  Cabbages prefer cool temperatures and can survive light freezes.  They form tighter heads, color up more and taste sweeter if they mature in fall rather than summer.  A good gardener friend tells me that purple cabbages are less susceptible to aphids than green cabbages.  The cabbage in the photo above had almost 2 more months until harvest in mid to late November. I made a gallon of sauerkraut with half of the mature cabbage.

Other favorite purple vegetables that I grow are ‘Purple Mountain’ potatoes, a Colorado-bred spud, ‘Black Nebula’ carrot, ‘Shiraz Tall Top’ beet (if you can call beets purple).  I recently discovered a bush-pea variety with purple flowers that can be grown in containers called ‘Little Snowpea Purple’. 

The most dependable purple flowering plant in my garden is ‘Grandpa Otts’ morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’s’), a tender annual vine. 

‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory was one of the seeds that started the Seed Savers Exchange.  I was given the seeds of this plant years ago at a Pro Green Expo in Denver.  I planted them on my deck in a 5 gallon bucket.  For the past 10 years, they have been reseeding dependably, but politely, in containers on my deck and occasionally popping up in the garden soil beside the deck.  

The photo above was taken a few years ago in early summer before full growth of the morning glories, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum lobbianum ‘Moonlight’) and another favorite that I grow each year because the chipmunks won’t eat them, Dahlberg daisies (Thymophylla tenuiloba).  In case you have a good eye, trained to diagnose plant problems, the morning glories look like they have a virus on the leaves but I have only seen that one year.  It could have also been caused by reflected heat.

Another favorite purple flower in my gardens is the biennial flowering plant, Canterbury bells (Campanula media). 

They are true biennials so they never bloom until the second year, at least for me.  But, when they do bloom, they bloom the entire season.  They are a hardy, cottage garden flower that re-seed happily in my garden. I love to share the tiny seeds at seed exchanges.  They come in shades of purples, pinks and white as can be seen in the far right of the above photo, taken in late June or early July.   They also make good cut flowers. 

I cannot possibly pick a favorite native flower but the purplest one I can think of is the beautiful and stately larkspur of our mountains, Delphinium barbeyi. 

This native flower is common in the subalpine zone.  It grows from 4- 7’ tall in moist areas.  It is often found growing alongside cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) or osha (Ligusticum porteri).  The photo above was taken in the San Juan Mountains a little above timberline on August 2, 2017.
Other beautiful purple native flowers in Colorado are the delicate bluebells of Scotland (Campanula rotundifolia), many fleabane species (Erigeron spp.), fringed gentians (Gentianopsis thermalis) and many, many others. 

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) are a native fruit that are used to make sought- after jellies and jams.  My grandmother, Eloise McMahon, taught me which native fruits are good to forage and we’d make chokecherry  jelly and chokecherry syrup for sour dough pancakes. 

The plants, except for the fruit, contain a poison hydrocyanic acid.  When you eat them raw they sometimes give your mouth a dry, puckery feeling.  The flavor they give jellies and syrups is very distinctive.  They supposedly taste sweetest after a frost but by then the bears may have beaten you to them!   

My favorite purple Colorado cultivated fruit is the Bing cherry (Prunus avium 'Bing').

I look forward to the cherry season each year and can eat a pound at a time of fresh cherries.  Yum!   Not only are bing cherries delicious, they also have anti-inflammatory properties.  Paonia Colorado has celebrated more than 70 years of cherry harvest in western Colorado around each 4th of July with the festival “Cherry Days”.

Let me know your favorite purple plants in the comments,

Monday, March 5, 2018

What’s That Bug: Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Posted by: Jessica Wong, Master Gardener Coordinator, Broomfield County Extension

When people find out that I’m an entomologist they sometimes ask one of two questions: “So you study where words come from?” Or they pull out their phones to show me a blurry photo and ask, “What’s that bug?” I can’t tell you the origin of the word ‘bug’, but I can tell you a little bit about bug biology.

The latest blurry photo shared with me was of a brown marmorated stink bug (BMSB), Halyomorpha halys, inside a house. This insect is originally from Asia and it was accidentally brought to the mid-Atlantic in the late 1990s. Since then BMSB have spread to other parts of North America where they are nuisances and pests to homeowners, gardeners, and farmers.

Map of brown marmorated stink bug distribution from
There are a number of stink bug species found in Colorado, but BMSB can be identified by a few key characteristics. The adults are about 0.5 to 0.6-inch long and are brown mottled with black and tan. Their antennae have black and white bands, and the sides of their abdomens also have an alternating black and white pattern.
Key characteristics of BMSB from
These bugs are common home invaders in the fall and winter, and in the spring and summer they can be pests of a large variety of plant species. Their hosts range from ornamentals such as tree of heaven and eastern redbud to crops including beans, tomatoes and apples. Feeding of BMSB on crops can result in fruit deformities and internal damage that compromise quality.
BMSB feeding on raspberries from by Cesar Rodriguez-Saona and Doug Pfeiffer
Necrotic spots on an apple from by Tracy Leskey and Torri Hancock

For now BMSB are not a serious problem in Colorado, but having seen the damage they cause in other parts of the country I plan to keep a watchful eye out for this one. If you want to learn more about BMSB you can visit the StopBMSB website. You can also report a sighting on the StopBMSB website if you find one.

One final thought in case you’re curious about what brown marmorated stink bugs smell like: they kind of smell like cilantro, so I guess they stink if you aren’t a fan of cilantro.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Behind the Scenes at the 2018 CO Garden & Home Show

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

Every year the Colorado Garden Foundation hosts the Colorado Garden & Home Show in Denver. From the website:

"Discover the Rocky Mountain region’s oldest, largest and most prestigious garden and home show – a nine-day spectacular event at the Colorado Convention Center– where you can find inspiration from the latest ideas and trends in landscaping, gardening and home improvement. Enjoy the multitude of fragrances as you stroll through more than an acre of professionally landscaped gardens – 11 in all.  Talk to representatives from more than 650 companies from 25 states and Canada. Visit with the region’s gardening gurus and home improvement experts about the best ways to move your home and garden projects forward." 

An acre of landscaped gardens inside the Convention Center?!? The effort that goes into creating all of those gardens is huge and this year I got to be a part of it. CSU Extension has an educational display every year, and every year a different area county takes over the responsibility. This year it was Boulder County's turn. Planning began in July and after monthly meetings and lots of brainstorming our crew came up with, what we believe is, a fun and educational display all about "Wise Water Harvesting". 

The focus of the display is on both active (rain barrels) and passive (landscaping techniques) rainwater harvesting. We created a miniature home landscape complete with a little house, veggie garden, rain garden and dry-creek bed (swale). The process of completing these indoor landscapes takes place over the course of three intense days. Upon arrival there were 5 large "garden beds" constructed of  concrete blocks that were filled with mulch. Aaaaah, the blank slate to make our vision a reality! 

We had a crew of CO Master Gardeners and a spousal volunteer who started unloading the materials and supplies. Once the plants arrived those were unloaded and staged awaiting their final placement. We all got to work sculpting the mulch, building the house, constructing the set, installing the fence, planting the plants and placing the signs. We were in our own world while the rest of the humongous exhibit hall was busy with other vendors doing the same thing: creating their worlds and getting ready to share their products and vision with the public. 

In addition to the miniature landscape there is a bed with a full size rain garden, and another with a mock-up wall with full size rain barrel. The final two beds include one with info on Plant Talk and the other full of Plant Select plants. 

Plant Select Display
Rain Garden

House Mock-Up

What a fun break from the norm and a good excuse to get dirty in the middle of winter. We all got a little bit of a gardening fix while it was snowing outside!! It was a real treat to see our vision become a reality and hopefully the many, many members of the public who go to the CO Garden & Home Show will leave with new ideas and inspiration for incorporating rainwater harvesting into their own landscape. 

These photos just don't do it justice so go checkout our display and all of the many, many others in person if you can! The show runs through March 4th. For hours and more info on attending the show go to: 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Sumo Citrus = Love.

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Oh, Sumo Citrus how I love thee.
Sumo Citrus. Awesome. Tasty. Incredible. And 1000 other adjectives that describe yummy.
Wait--you haven't heard of Sumo Citrus? Really?? Let me tell you--you're missing out. And you may actually miss out, since they have such a short season. I told a few of my co-workers about this incredible fruit and they went nuts! There was a flurry of text messages and dashes to the grocery store to buy them.

The Sumo Citrus, in short, is amazing. By far the best Mandarin orange I've had. Actually, the best orange I've had. Period. Seedless, sweet, easy-to-peel and a great winter treat.

I love when certain produce comes into season--think Bing cherries, Colorado peaches, Honeycrisp apples and the sweetest sweet corn. Sumo Citrus is no exception--when they arrive in the grocery store, I buy in bulk. It's not an inexpensive purchase (they are usually about $3/pound), but worth every penny. And then I hoard them. Protective of every juicy segment.
Both, sadly, have been eaten.
The Sumo Citrus was developed in Japan and is grown in the United States in California, on family farms in the San Joaquin Valley. The fruit is pretty distinct because they are large, bumpy and usually have a large knob on the top of the fruit (called the Sumo "top knot").

The rind seems to be naturally separated from the fruit, so it's very easy to peel and almost just falls off once you get it started.
Sumo is so easy to peel!
And the taste! Exceptional. Sweet, but not too sweet, great orange flavor and when you're finished, you want to eat another (but you don't because they are too special).
Yum yum yum.
Growers claim the Sumo Citrus is around from February to May, but I think I only saw them into March last year. Maybe there are more growers and we'll have a longer season. But I am already sad for the day they'll disappear from the produce section and will patiently wait for 2019. Until then, I have my stash and will enjoy every bite!
Maybe the short growing season is what makes them so special?

Monday, February 12, 2018

Coffee with a little IPM

Posted by: Mary Small
Colorado Master Gardener Program Coordinator
One of the topics I teach in our Colorado Master Gardener program is Integrated Pest Management or IPM. It’s a multi-prong approach to managing pests and can be used in a variety of situations. I wrote about how I used IPM strategies to combat fruit flies in the kitchen last fall. Here’s another story.
Last year at this time, I was in Guatemala on a mission trip. On our free day, a group of us toured a coffee plantation near Antigua, situated at about 5,000 ft in the western highlands.  We were looking forward to the tour and sampling their product at the end.

And then… we wandered down a row of coffee plants, I became distracted when our guide pointed out rust disease on some leaves.  I just had to have a picture! (If you know me, this is no surprise. I like “weird stuff” as my children often have reminded me.)

Rust on coffee leaf
While I was angling for a good shot, the guide told us about the plantations’ disease management strategies.  Their practice was to treat only the plants that had the disease rather than treating the whole crop. Before they treated, they watched the outbreak areas to determine if sprays were really needed. Sometimes they were, sometimes not. In IPM, this is known as “spot treatment”. The purpose of a spot treatment is to minimize pesticide exposure of non target organisms as well as control costs. And this is done by only treating what is necessary – when it is necessary and according to specific threshold levels of the pest.
Trees shading coffee

One of our group asked about the large trees growing among the coffee plants. Why were they there? Didn’t that keep light from reaching the leaves and berries? Well, yes, it did. The light intensity is so high that it “sunburns” the coffee fruit, rendering it useless for the beverage market. The trees are there to decrease the incidence of berry burn. This is an example of a cultural IPM practice – altering the culture (manipulating the environment) to reduce the likelihood of “pest” (read: sun) damage.

Trees with fruit to attract birds
Our guide also pointed out newer trees (whose name escapes me) that were planted with a purpose. One of the plantation’s ongoing problems was birds swooping down into the coffee crop and taking the fruit. (If you raise anything that produces fruit, you can understand the frustration here!) The company tried different strategies until they learned this tree produces fruit that the birds really like. So the tree fruit acts to divert them from the desired coffee crop. Nothing is 100%, but it was more successful than anything else they previously tried. In IPM, we would call this trap cropping. (Think planting radishes to attract the western cabbage flea beetle, so they won’t decimate the broccoli.)
 Now, having raised fruit bearing plants, I’ve since pondered what happens when the birds “re-sow” the seeds of the tree fruit with a little bit of their fertilizer. Didn’t think of it. Too distracted by the wonders of viewing IPM in practice…and fresh-ground Guatemalan coffee!