Sunday, September 7, 2014

Book Review: A Natural History of North American Trees

Posted by: Eric Hammond, Adams County Extension

 The Book:

A Natural History of North American Trees.  This is an abridged volume which combines two other works; A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America and A Natural History of Western Trees both of which were originally published in the 1950’s
The Author: 

 Donald Culross Peattie

 Peattie was a well know nature writer in the mid-1900’s who had a particular passion for forestry and silviculture. 


When described in the abstract, this book does not sound terribly exciting.  It is a collection of profiles of North American trees.  For each species the scientific and common names are given followed by a discretion of the species natural range and then of the plant itself and its uses.   There are any number of other books which are written in a similar way, and unless you are very interested in forestry or a serious tree geek, most of them are a good way to start a nap.   This is what sets Peattie’s book apart.  His descriptions are vivid and he brings in pieces of history and the trees places in it that expand the potential audience to horticulturalists, casual gardeners and even history buffs.  It’s still not the kind of book you pick up and read cover to cover but the descriptions taken on their own or in small groups really are interesting. 
Peattie litters these descriptions with fascinating bits of information and short stories.  For example, he describes how integral the both Utah and single seed junipers (Juniperus osteosperma and J. monosperma respectively) were in the lives of the some of the Native American tribes of the southwest.  He relates how children of some tribes were swaddled in juniper bark “rubbed soft” and placed in cradles made of juniper.  When weaned, they would be fed juniper berries in the fall and winter and warmed by juniper wood burned as fuel.  It was used in many of rites and ceremonies of their lives and its branches were used to sweep away the footprints from around their graves.   Later he relates the story of the famous pioneer botanist David Douglas’s first awkward encounter with sugar pine in the Columbia River Valley.  Sometimes these really are short tidbits as in this single sentence describing why honeyshucks and honey locust were among the common name given to Gleditsia triacanthos the names were “…very appropriate on account of the sweet pods eagerly eaten by cattle and sometimes by nibbling country boys”.    It might just be me but, this made me really curious how the pods taste.  I can’t vouch for the accuracy of the stories but if you are interested in trees or history they are certainly interesting.

Peattie’s writing is often beautiful and sometimes, at least from my 21st century perspective, over the top.  To illustrate, here is his opening paragraph on Utah juniper:

            On the very edge of the opened book of the Grand Canyon – page upon page of red stone tablets receding away into the purple shadows of a billion years of time gone by – perches the Utah Juniper.  Now erect of stem, with crown symmetrically intact, now aslant over the awesome chasm, now storm-torn, broken head, and stem contorted as by the whirl of the winds themselves or lightning-riven and stripped to the white bones of half its bark – this indomitable tree dares the south rim of the cannon for miles.   And when you step gingerly to the edge and look down into the vast emptiness, you see this Juniper far below you, dotting the bridle trail, clinging to perilous ledges, springing out of crevices in the rock, sprinkling the giddy slopes of talus, a symbol of undefeated life in an abyss of death.  From this only silence wells up to you, a silence as of outer and infinite space, where interplanetary gales could blow and make no sound.  But when you stand by a rim Juniper you hear whistling of the wind in its sharp-angled foliage, a high thin vibration of an elemental harp, and it is a comforting sound; it is sort of a message for green life, in all this dead geology.  Yet in its way the living tree, the older and craggier it grows seems the most constant of possible trees in this, the most stupendous site in all the world.

 Oh my, that is a lot of descriptors….   This description is typical for the book. They are vivid and express an infectious passion for the natural world but at times are just too much for my tastes.  I found that after reading through a couple they started to run together and so I would only read them in small chunks.   It’s also worth pointing out that from the perspective of a gardener or horticulturalist there is not a lot of information related to these fields in such descriptions. 

The book is filled with charming woodcut illustrations like this one of Utah juniper by Paul Landacre
So should you read this book?   If you are interested in trees and the history of our interaction with the natural world I would guess you will find Pattie’s work interesting and compelling.  If you are looking to read something that will increase your knowledge of horticulture or are partial to precise and concise use of the English language this may not be for you.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The Demise of a Demonstration Garden

Posted by Linda McMulkin, CSU Extension-Pueblo County

In August, 2014, the Plant Select demonstration garden at the Colorado State Fair was disassembled and the space returned to its former life as a parking lot.  I’m always sad to lose gardens, but the demise of this garden really hit me hard. 

The four raised beds shortly after the 2006 installation.
In 2005, the Colorado State Fair decided to beautify the Acero Street entrance (Gate 2) to the fairgrounds.  Four raised beds were constructed behind the Fine Arts building using landscape bricks and truly awful soil.  That spring, the beds were planted with a mixture of annuals and perennials by the fair staff and watered by hand.  In the fall, the fair approached CSU Extension and the local Colorado Master Gardeners, offering us the beds for an educational garden.  We agreed and started organizing funds and donations, youth and adult volunteers, and a team to design a garden that was heat tolerant, water wise, and would knock people’s socks off when they came in the VIP Gate. 
By April of 2006, the team was removing perennials from the previous planting; many of those plants were replanted as part of the new design.  Over $1,700 worth of plants, amendments, and mulch were donated by local businesses and Plant Select.  By early summer, spigots were installed for each bed, plants were in the soil, soaker hoses were installed, and wood mulch was spread.  

The garden during the 2010 state fair. 
That was one of the good years.
Over the years, the Colorado Master Gardeners and I spent many hours in those beds, evaluating plant health, planting new species, installing an automatic irrigation system and fixing the leaks, transitioning from wood to pea gravel mulch, picking up trash, pulling weeds, hosting tours, teaching classes, having social gatherings, laughing frequently, and whining a lot.  Like any garden, some years the garden was awesome, some years were a challenge. 

But interest waned as the garden matured.  We got tired and maybe a little bored, the fair seemed less supportive (in their defense, we usually had it under control), the location was out of sight and not ideal for an educational garden, and after several years of agonizing, the volunteers and I decided to turn it over to the fair.  It turns out they were okay with us giving up the garden, as they wanted the space back for staff parking during events.
The bed pictured above during
I was on the fairgrounds the first week of August and learned that the beds were being disassembled.  I hesitated to go watch, but could not resist.  It was painful, but in some ways a relief.  Knowing that the fairgrounds maintenance staff had little time to care for the garden, I expected it to struggle and eventually die.  Now I don’t have to watch it deteriorate over time.

One of the newly planted
 beds near Gate 2
On a positive note, many of the herbaceous plants have been moved to other garden beds on the fairgrounds and 2 previously unfilled beds are now planted.  Although the former garden is again a parking lot, the plants we chose can continue to beautify the Colorado State Fairgrounds.

The volunteers and I learned a lot over the years and mostly enjoyed our experience.  While we mourn the loss of this garden, we help in other public gardens in Pueblo County and continue to scout for a new perfect spot to make our own.

Monday, September 1, 2014

National Ornamental Grass Trials in Colorado

Posted by: Jane Rozum, Douglas County Extension

This time of year, while some perennials are looking a bit tired, there's a perennial that is just starting to put on its best show: Ornamental grasses. I’m not talking the cool-season Calamagrostis (feather reed grass) or Festuca (fescue) species, I’m referring to the beauties born on the Great American prairies, the warm-season Panicum (Switchgrass), and Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem) species.
Warm-season grasses wait until the ground warms in late spring to start growing; these grasses are no fools and would never get caught in a late season frost. They grow best and flower during the warmer months of the year; most start flowering in late July and August. They also have an amazing ability to withstand drought better than their cool-season cousins, making them more than worthy for our low water use landscapes in Colorado.
National Ornamental Grass Trials at Colorado State University
Dr. Mary Meyer from the University of Minnesota launched the National Ornamental Grass Trials in 2012, a three-year study where 17 sites around the country are growing 22 cultivars of warm-season grasses including many cultivars of Panicum (Switchgrass) and Schizachyrium (Little Bluestem). Not only will this study evaluate whether the grasses survive with minimal cultural inputs (horticulture-speak which means that plants don’t use much water or fertilizer), but also look at which plants thrive and possess desirable characteristics making them market-worthy for the nursery industry. Colorado State University is a collaborator in the trials, and 2014 is the second year of data collection for these grasses. At CSU, the grasses have received less than ½ the amount of water a bluegrass lawn would need to grow during the year as well as no fertilizer.

In 2013, the top performers at CSU included: Switchgrass cultivars ‘Shenandoah’, ‘Northwind’, ‘Thundercloud’ and Little Bluestem cultivar ‘Blue Heaven™’. Who will be a top performer this year? We won’t know until the data is collected later this month, but one thing is certain: these tough and beautiful grasses definitely will have a place in future low-water landscapes in Colorado.
Panicum virgatum 'Shenandoah'
P.v. 'Northwind'
S.s 'Blue Heaven'
P.v. 'Thundercloud'

For more information on the National Ornamental Grass Trials, visit the blog @

Monday, August 25, 2014

House Flies Bugging You Too?

Kurt Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

County Fair has come and gone, and one of the left-over benefits from County Fair is a surge of house flies which descend upon our office.  One of the contests that we “enjoy” is to see who is better with the fly-swatter in our office.  I typically suck at it, but I blame the bifocals…

Several species of flies commonly enter Colorado homes. Most are merely nuisance pests.  Others are important because they can transmit diseases. House flies, face flies and blow flies develop in manure and garbage and are commonly contaminated with disease-causing bacteria, including those associated with food poisoning.

The most commonly observed stage of a fly is the winged, adult stage. The immature stage is a pale, legless maggot. When full grown, maggots wander from the breeding site in search of a place to pupate. Many flies complete development (egg, larva, pupa, and adult) in a short period, seven to 14 days, and produce many generations during a typical season.

Although flies most often are a nuisance during the warm season, indoor overwintering is common with cluster flies and face flies.

Blow flies are fairly large, metallic green, gray, blue or black flies found throughout the state. These flies tend to be more common than the house fly and sometimes are called the "house flies of the West." The adults spend the winter in homes or other protected sites but do not reproduce during this time.

Blow fly maggots feed on garbage. They occasionally can be found in homes that are near a carcass of a dead squirrel, rodent or bird they have wandered from. Blow flies breed most commonly on decayed carcasses and droppings of dogs or other pets. The adult blow fly is also attracted to gas leaks.

House flies are the best known of the house-infesting flies but are found infrequently in Colorado. House flies generally are gray, with the thorax marked with broad dark stripes. Most often there is some yellow coloring along the sides, which differentiates them from face flies.

House flies usually are found where humans are present. Larvae commonly develop in or near man-made sources of food and can be found in garbage, animal waste, culled fruits and vegetables, and spilled animal feed. The adult flies feed on a wide range of liquid waste but can eat solid foods, such as sugar. To digest solid foods, house flies liquefy food by regurgitating it. Because of this habit, house flies can pose serious health threats by mechanically transmitting disease organisms. During mild winters, house flies may fly and breed continuously, as temperatures permit.

Sanitation practices that remove breeding areas are fundamental to the control of filth-breeding flies, such as house flies and blow flies. Remove or cover garbage and clean spilled animal feed and manure. Face flies, which typically develop in pasture lands, and cluster flies (earthworm parasites) often are difficult to control by breeding area management.

Screening and other exclusion techniques can be an important management tool for several types of indoor fly problems. Caulk or cover all openings into a home to prevent flies from entering.  Do so before flies enter buildings.  Use insecticides only as a supplement to other controls. Serious problems exist with insecticide-resistant flies and many fly populations are now difficult to control with insecticides.

If I can get this fly to hold still, and figure out which lenses to look through, I may have won today’s fly-swatting contest.  I think he’s laughing at me as he buzzes by…

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Tomato Addict

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, CSU Extension in Larimer County

For those of you who read the title of this blog and saw my name as the author, I'm sure you're thinking I had a change of heart and now appreciate the "love apple" and all its glory. Nope. Sorry. I still don't like eating raw tomatoes. But someone in my family does. That someone is Willow, my 15-year-old beagle:
Hi, I'm Willow. I'm a tomato addict.
Willow came into our lives about 9 years ago. She was a research beagle, so we don't know much about her history. All we know is that she's a wonderful dog who's sweet, kind and LOVES TOMATOES. She loves tomatoes more than I love chocolate--and that's saying something.

Each spring, Willow gets her own tomato plant in a container on our back patio. By the end of the season, this plant is looking pretty ragged, since she sticks her face in it about 30 times a day and knocks it over all the time. When the plant blooms, her face is yellow with the pollen. She often has a faint odor of tomato. And no, it rarely fruits, since she picks off anything green in desperation to eat tomatoes. The ground of our patio is littered with green tomatoes.

In order to feed her appetite, we also plant tomatoes in our garden. Her favorites are Sungold. And my little beagle can tell when the tomatoes are ripe. They say dogs are colorblind, but not Willow. She knows when they turn orange. A few nights ago she was outside just before bedtime and she started to bark. No, she wasn't barking at neighborhood cats or rabbits--she was barking at the ripe tomatoes. She wanted to eat them.
Willow and the glory of Sungolds.
We indulge in Willow's addiction, primarily because we think it's the cutest thing ever. And a couple tomatoes never hurt anyone (we checked with our vet). But last night was the mecca of the tomato heists...

We have a tomato plant on the back patio from a client's yard. I am trying to determine if my city water changes the growth of the plant. It also had a large green tomato on it, about the size of a softball. For some reason, we didn't think Willow cared about this tomato. She was happy stuffing her face in her own patio plant and eating the ripe Sungolds from the garden. We were wrong.

The softball-sized tomato was just starting to turn color. And that's when Willow, in the stealth of night (around 8:30pm), picked it off and ate at least half before we caught her. Willow! A partially eaten, mostly green tomato in her jaws. And she had never been happier. She was awfully proud of herself.

Honestly, I've never known a dog to be so passionate about a fruit. I could understand if the plants grow Pup-a-roni, but Willow clearly thinks that tomatoes are better than any manufactured dog treat out there. And I love her for it.
I love tomatoes!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Things that make you stop and say "Huh!"

Posted by: Tony Koski, CSU Turfgrass Specialist

As seen on the CSU Campus...What is causing the pine needles to stand upright in the soil? Any guesses?

Monday, August 11, 2014

August 11, 2014
Posted by: Mary Small, Jefferson County Extension

Got Mushy Raspberries?

They’re here and they’re gross. I’m talking about the spotted wing drosophila (SWD) in our Research and Demonstration garden’s raspberry planting.
SWD ovipositor, serrated and sclerotized

Of course, these little gems have to be different than other fruit flies. The females have a sclerotized (hardened) serrated ovipositor, (egg-laying structure) just right for laying eggs in intact, still-ripening fruit. They couldn’t be like their relatives who are more interested in fallen or overripe fruit, no!

What’s so disgusting about the whole thing is that the larvae rapidly turn raspberries into a liquid mess. One morning, a staff member collected a small bag for a snack later in the day. When she went to eat them, the now liquefied fruit was infested with tiny white maggots.

Liquified raspberries with maggot (just above center)

While they will damage many types of small fruit, peaches and cherries, they prefer the volatiles of raspberries. To add insult to injury the insects feed on other soft- fleshed fruit found in our landscape – elderberries, chokecherries, mahonia and honeysuckle. So there’s plenty of food to keep them hanging around, even if it’s not their favorite!

We first found SWD late last summer and began a sanitation program: keeping fruit regularly picked and collecting fallen fruit from the ground. We started a trapping program in July using a yeast-sugar water bait placed in red-lidded empty peanut butter jars. (Thanks to my dedicated family for eating all the peanut butter!)  While we’ve collected mostly male and female SWDs, it is interesting to see who else likes the bait. So far, we’ve also collected sap bugs, earwigs and other fruit flies. 
Trap for SWD 

This year we’re using sanitation and trapping to monitor the population and sort-of manage it. Being a garden on public property that can be accessed virtually any time of day, we’re a bit reluctant to introduce pesticides.

One of the benefits of the infestation is that we have a living laboratory for training our volunteers.  The clinicians will also be able to identify the adults after an upcoming workshop, so they can better assist customers.

And frankly, when I check the raspberry fruit I am amazed at how many thrips are wandering around in them. I wonder how many I've consumed over the years.  Maybe I should just view SWD in the same way – extra protein, anyone?