CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Feeling Thankful in 2020

 Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Don't get me wrong--it's been a hard year. There have been many challenges, new stresses, obstacles, and uncertainty. "Be flexible" has been a good mantra. Despite the bad, there's also been a lot of good. So let's take a moment to reflect on the positives...

People started gardening.

We were stuck at home, looking outside at our landscapes, so people picked up a shovel and got busy. This meant record-breaking seed salesBaker Creek, a supplier of heirloom seeds, reported over 10,000 orders on one day in late March. In some cases, this meant packing and shipping delays. It also meant that some seeds were completely sold out. For those of us in horticulture, the news was exciting! New gardeners! (And truth be told, it also provided us Extension folk a bit of job security, since we knew these new gardeners would have questions.) The record seed sales also extended to nurseries and greenhouses, who struggled to keep plants in stock due to demand. 

Shoppers at Fort Collins Nursery (photo courtesy of the Coloradoan)
Shoppers at Fort Collins Nursery (Fort Collins, Colo.) (photo courtesy of The Coloradoan)

Several garden centers reported higher-than-normal Mother's Day sales, with customers swarming to buy hanging baskets, annuals, and summer-blooming bulbs. Signs were posted that said, "New shipments are on their way!" Garden centers responded with curbside pick-up and online ordering. For months, one of the nurseries in Fort Collins had long lines lining the frontage road in front of their store the moment they opened each day. A warm welcome to all of our new gardeners!

Gardeners gave back to their community.

The CSU Extension Grow & Give project provided resources for people to grow produce with the intent of donating some of it back to their communities. Wildly successful (and award-winning!), this project was adopted by 37 Colorado counties. Gardeners donated more than 46,000 pounds of fruits and veggies to local food banks and pantries, as well as churches, community groups, and neighbors. 

Farmers' markets were successful

Nationally, farmers' markets were deemed as "essential business", meaning that they were allowed to operate as per health department regulations. The Larimer County Farmers' Market, operated by CSU Extension in Larimer County, scrambled to open their doors in May. Despite numerous regulations and mandates, the market operated successfully for 24 weeks. It even had the highest sales day in its 45-year history in August. Masked customers lined up obediently, six feet apart, to purchase their favorites from dedicated vendors. Hand sanitizer, wash stations, gloves, and masks all became part of the market culture. 

Styria Bakery II at the Larimer County Farmers' Market in Fort Collins (photo by Karen Collins)
Styria Bakery II at the Larimer County Farmers' Market (photo courtesy of Karen Collins)

Selling plants to get a home

I recently read this heart-warming story that brought tears to my eyes and provided the hope that we're so desperate for. Aaron Moreno, a California first grader whose family was homeless, sold plants to help his family get an apartment. His mom gave him her last $12, which he invested in succulents and sold them for a profit of $4. He took that money and reinvested it into buying more plants. Setting up his table outside a shed, where the family was living, people bought the plants--in droves. Aaron's Garden raised enough money (with the help of GoFundMe) to move his family out of the shed into an apartment. Aaron now has money in the bank and a place to do homework. While he may not stay in horticulture (he wants to be a judge), it's clear that gardening changed his family's life. 

Aaron Moreno of Aaron's Garden (photo courtesy of Instagram @aaronsgarden)
Aaron Moreno of Aaron's Garden (photo courtesy of @aaronsgarden on Instagram)

Yep. It's been a tough year. But there's still so much good. And if tough times have proven anything before, it's that we'll get through this. Together. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Monday, November 16, 2020

8 Ways Cover Crops Can Improve Your Garden

Patti O’Neal

Jefferson County Horticulture and Urban Food Systems

Cover cropping, a strategy also known as green manure, has been practiced by gardeners and farmers the world over for over 10,000 years. This organic restoration practice can boost your garden noticeably the very first year you incorporate it into your own best management practices and the improvements increase even more each year as their effects accumulate. These crops are easy to use, do not need much care beyond watering and a mowing or two and provide tremendous advantages to the garden and gardener.

Cover crops are plants that are considered soil builders. Here are 8 sometimes overlooked ways that cover crops build the soil productivity in your garden:

·       Provides Beneficial insect habitat – pollinators, honeybees, beneficial predator insects will all enjoy the nectar as well as the shelter these crops can provide at every season you use them. 

·       Smothers weeds and suppresses their seed from germinating as well.  They provide a dense mat to keep the light from reaching the seeds.

·       Better, more complete soil tillage than any mechanical method.  These crops improve soil structure, allowing more air and water penetration. They can break up soil compaction, loosen tight, hard, or heavy soils and create good tilth.

·       Provides shade for the soil for cooler root temperatures, less moisture losses during hot weather.

·       Acts as a living mulch when established between vegetable rows. 

·       Increases organic matter in the soil while feeding the microbes, beneficial bacteria, fungi, and earthworms living in the soil.

·       Conserves soil moisture both at the surface of the soil and in the critical root zone. The extensive root systems conserve soil by reducing erosion from rain by slowing water flow across and through the soil. The living foliage can also buffer wind effects.

·       Fixes nitrogen from the air while recycling nutrients, preventing their run-off and leaching from the root zone, simultaneously bringing up deeper nutrients to plant roots that are usually unavailable.

Use seasonally appropriate cover crops.  Legumes, vetches, rye, and buckwheat are all excellent cover crop plants.  Like all plants, each cover crop germinates and flourishes best in certain seasons. Most reputable seed companies will sell individual crop packets or recommended mixes appropriate for specific season plantings.  Some cover crop seeds are available locally, but seed catalogues have the widest range and generally provide good advice and instruction on using them. 


                        Buckwheat flowering in  Betty Cahill's raised beds

If you are letting a bed or area of your garden go fallow for a season, this thousands year old practice of planting a cover crop can help to replenish the biological community of your soil below while providing nectar as well as shelter for pollinators and beneficials above. Here are a couple of tips to help you be the most successful with a green manure crop.   

·       Allow your crop to flower but watch carefully and do not let it go to seed or you will be battling weeds of a different sort in the months to come. 

Flowering red clover

·       If you plant early enough in the season you can get one or maybe even two mowing’s in (If you garden in raised beds, a weed whacker works great for this) forcing the root material into overdrive to produce another above ground crop.  This action forces the root system further into the soil to depositing additional nutrients while continuing to improve tilth, bringing formerly unavailable nutrients up to the plant root zone. 

After your final mowing, fork the remainder of the material under so the microbes and arthropods you have encouraged can break it all down completely to become plant available nutrients.  Be sure and do this at least a month to six weeks before your intended planting date for this bed.  Otherwise, the increased microbial activity will compete with the root establishment of new plants or can even disrupt germination of seeds. You do not want to spoil all the good work you have done. 

Farris helping to turn the cover crop

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Overwintering Perennials in Containers

Posted by Sarah Schweig, Broomfield County Extension

You may have perennials in containers rather than in the ground for a number of reasons. Perhaps you incorporated them into patio plantings, or maybe they were bought with the intention of planting them, but you didn’t get around to it. Either way, you’ll need to protect most containerized perennials if you want them to survive the winter. 

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Colorado Map

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone on your plant tag is based on the plant’s ability to survive winters in the ground, and if you want to rely on hardiness zones, you should look two zones colder than your area when considering plants in containers. For reference, we are Zone 6a here in Broomfield, based on average minimum temperatures from -10ºF to -5ºF annually. For two zones colder, think more like parts of Grand County or Park County in Zone 4a, which has average minimum temperatures of -30ºF to -25ºF. Add the fact that hardiness zones are based on 30-year averages (would anyone classify Colorado weather as predictable?), and it’s important to note that even plants rated for two zones colder are no guarantee for winter survival in containers. That said, there are strategies for protecting your perennial containers, and the more hardy the plant, the better their chances of survival.

Plant containers dug into ground


By digging containers into soil, you can get the same insulative protection for roots that they would get if planted in the soil. Water plants before setting in the ground, and dig holes deep enough for plants to sit at the same level they would if planted in the ground. Mulch heavily for added protection.


Drying winds and temperature fluctuations are as much an issue as low temperatures when it comes to winter survival. Soil heaving can occur when soils freeze and thaw repeatedly, potentially breaking roots or exposing sensitive parts of the plant. Larger containers can help mitigate soil desiccation and temperatures and therefore increase chances for winter survival. You can also simulate this positive effect by grouping containers together. Allow the containers to protect each other by placing larger containers on the outside of the huddle and smaller containers on the inside. Get added protection by placing in an area protected from wind and mulching around and over the tops of the pots.


Unheated indoor spaces like garages or sheds are another option. Many perennials require annual cold temperatures and a dormancy period, so this space should ideally stay around 30º - 40ºF, warm enough to protect from injury and cold enough for vernalization. Don’t forget to check on plants stored indoors periodically and water when dry.


For all of these options, continue to water plants until soil freezes, and water throughout the winter when temperatures are above 40ºF. It’s important to keep an eye on your containers as temperatures begin to warm and stabilize in the spring. You don’t want to expose plants too quickly to environmental conditions. On the other hand, if protection remains in place too long, plants could start their spring growth prematurely. For those stored indoors, begin to bring outside when night time temperatures are around freezing. Late cold snaps may require bringing the pots back in temporarily, but it’s a small price to pay if they’ve made it that far. For pots huddled together in a protected outdoor location, begin to remove mulch gradually over a number of weeks as the weather warms. For pots sunk in the ground, remove them at the early signs of new growth to avoid their roots growing into the surrounding soil.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Winter Time Considerations for Pollinators and Wildlife

By Sherie Shaffer, Horticulture Agent, CSU Extension-Pueblo County

Warm weather and flower blooms have gone away, but pollinators and wildlife still look to our yards and gardens for survival! Whether it’s shelter or food, we can help buzzing bees and feathered friends by making careful considerations in our landscapes this winter.

First of all, where do these creatures go during the winter? Some butterflies, most notably monarchs, are known for migrating to warmer climates during the winter. However, there are plenty of pollinators and other wildlife that will spend winter in Colorado. Most of our native bee species (which are very important pollinators of native flowers!) don’t survive as the adults we are used to seeing, but as eggs in a nest that their mother has prepared for them. Once the weather starts to warm they will complete their growth into an adult bee and emerge right in time to pollinate flowers. Many birds will migrate south for the winter, but there are many species that will brave the long Colorado winter, even in the mountains. These birds use strategies such as molting, diet changes, torpor (a type of temporary hibernation) and even cuddling up together to share body heat.

Ground nesting bee- Xerces Society

So what can you do to help pollinators and wildlife during the winter? It turns out there are a lot of very simple things you can do at home that will make a big difference!

I feel like I am a bit of broken record on this one, but don’t rake up your leaves! Bumblebee queens, larva of butterflies and moths, and even beneficial insects like lady bugs will overwinter in a leaf pile and be ready to emerge into your landscape in spring.

Lady bug on fall leaves- 123rf

Try to avoid disturbing possible nesting sites as much as possible. Many of our native bees nest either in bare soil or in hollow stems of plants. Making sure you leave the bare soil undisturbed as long as possible, and waiting to cut back plants until spring will ensure that nests are able to survive until spring.

Continue to put out food for the birds. Black oil sunflower seeds are a preferred food for many wild birds. Some other birds are particularly attracted to suet. This article from Gilpin County Extension gives a lot more great tips on feeding birds. Also, next spring consider planting a shrub with berries like a golden currant or three leaf sumac that will help keep the birds fed next winter.

Birds feeding- Boulder Home and Garden Magazine

Winter is almost here, time to relax indoors and dream of spring blooms to come, but the pollinators are still out there, so give them a boost where you can!

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Plants That Hunger: Green Insectivores through the Dormant Season

Posted by: John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension 

We’re well into autumn, tilting further into the dormant season.. but this doesn’t have to be a time completely devoid of plant life, of green, of fresh produce and herbs. You can have freshly fallen foliage on your floor 365 days a year, if you like. Personally I enjoy the weirdness that comes with being surrounded by green plants while it is snowing outside, but that's just me.

But while we’re at it, why not consider raising a world of green insectivores that live on the brink? Carnivorous plants that consume other organisms on a regular basis. It sounds very much the stuff of sci-fi and imagination. In reality, quite a variety of these curiously adapted organisms exist in nature. And as fearsome and tough as they may seem or sound from reputation, carnivorous plants can be quite sensitive. They need care and particular environments to thrive.

In this blog post, I outline a little information on some of the more common carnivorous plants which you may be more likely to encounter in a garden nursery. At the end of the post I have also included links to information on less ‘fussy’ and more resilient plants that will just grow and be happy in a wide array of indoor environments, no doting required. 

Along the way, I will be providing plenty of links to further reading for a variety of these topics.

Carnivorous Plants

In the harsh reality of Colorado’s climate, many of these plants would not survive a week outdoors. It’s dry, the soil is challenging in many respects, and the temperature and weather fluctuates seemingly by the hour; however, in climate controlled home environments, these botanic curiosities can have a place right by any bedside.

But even indoors, they need a little extra care. As a kid, I always wondered why the mighty Venus Flytraps I purchased would die within a week. One problem is that I was treating them like quasi houseplant-animals rather than specialized organisms which needed time to acclimate. I wanted to see them eat bugs, but what they needed was time… and likely for me to stop poking them every 10 minutes.

Carnivorous plants have evolved to flourish in environments which are very low in accessible nutrients (low in Nitrogen and minerals salts, for example). But these plants do not primarily get their sustenance from their living meals; rather, they convert light into sugars (via chloroplasts) like all plants. They capture and 'process' their prey to compensate for their low-nutrient environments – it's like they take supplements in the form of digested insects! It’s a method to obtain a few specific things here and there but not a primary means for the plants to obtain energy. Also, don’t feed them raw meat.

Before diving in, an amazing list of detailed recommendations for the cultivation of various carnivorous plants may be found here:

Venus Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula)

Venus Flytrap - Dionaea muscipula
James Henderson, Golden Delight Honey,

These little shop of horror-esque curiosities are native to a coastal region in North and South Carolina. The can consume an array of insects but in the wild their diets primarily revolve around ants, spiders, and even small beetles; the plant will clamp down when an insect brushes by two of its internal hairs. Once trapped, insects are digested in about a week (or a little more), after which the jaws reopen in preparation for another meal. If the plant's mechanism is accidentally triggered or an insect manages to escape, it will take about 8hours for a trap to reopen. A mixture of Sphagnum moss and sand is often used as a growth medium for Venus Flytraps. But it is important to note that they (and many other carnivorous plants) do not grow well in salty soils; Venus Flytraps and are so sensitive that even using “hard” mineral-heavy water can have a detrimental impact to their health. Use distilled water when possible, and try to keep them in an environment above 50% humidity. Because it is so dry here in Colorado, it might be necessary to grow one in a terrarium or other semi-sealed type of environment.

More information on the Venus Fly trap:

Sundews (Drosera spp.)

Sundew - Drosera spp.

Rob Routledge, Sault College,

This genus (group of species) of plants ranges drastically in color from pinks to purples with reds in between; some have long thin tentacle leaves while others have short stubby spoon shaped leaves. The hairs on the leaves are tipped with a sticky substance that traps insects. Upon detecting a trapped insect, the leaf will roll itself up and begin digesting its meal. The Sundew then absorbs the nutrients through its leaves. Some research suggests that Sundews can obtain 20-57% of their required nitrogen from prey. A word of caution, if you decide to try growing one, do a little research on your variety. The needs of these plants can vary quite a bit between species of this genus; for example, some cannot handle dried mealworms as a food source while others can, some can tolerate a little bit of dryness while others do well in pots placed in trays of water. More detailed information for cultivating these plants can be found here:

Pitcher Plants (varied)

This group encompasses multiple genera of similar plants.

 Darlingtonia californica - California Pitcher Plant

Harlan B. Herbert,

The pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica (aka. California Pitcher Plantis native to Oregon and California. True to their namesake, these plants grow in a pitcher-like form. An insect will find itself drawn into the pitcher, fall into a small pool of water at its base, and then struggle to escape due to various possible plant adaptations (for example, some species have smooth and slick pitcher walls, others have downward pointing hairs or small spines). The water at the base of these plants is often enhanced with digestive enzymes, and nutrients are absorbed through the walls of the plant at the base of the pitcher. The California Pitcher plant has a twist in its pitcher to help retain prey, it is also somewhat unique in that it relies on bacteria and microinvertebrates to help breakdown trapped insects.

Darlingtonia californica - California Pitcher Plant
Harlan B. Herbert,

I won't go into detail on the Napenthes pitcher plant (image below), other than to say it is another common variety; more information can be found in the links following the image.

Nepenthes Pitcher Plant

Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia,
Carnivorous plants can be challenging to grow, but the challenge can be part of the fun. And one day, all of the pieces may come together and you might find yourself with a terrarium full of curious wonders. It just takes some deliberate preparation: a semi-enclosed terrarium, growth medium (sphagnum moss and sand or other), proper lighting and watering. Alas, it seems so simple. Fortunately in-depth guides exist (previously linked). But, if you're like me then you might want some plants that just grow well indoors without a lot of fuss. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the kind you can just "give water and they’ll grow", then I highly recommend you check out the following few links:

A short Afterward

These curious carnivores are pretty cool, unfortunately many species are threatened, endangered, and some critically so, due to poaching, habitat destruction, and so forth. There do exist licensed vendors for these plants. And so if you are interested in trying to grow one of these curious terrors, do a little investigation and please make sure you are getting your exotic plants from a reputable source.

If you are interested in learning more about indoor gardening, then you might also be interested in checking out these other posts in this indoor blog series: 

And as always,
Best of luck in your gardening endeavors!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Farewell, stressful summer

 Posted by: Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension

2020 has been a challenging year, for sure. And while one of the biggest challenges of the year (yes, I’m talking about you, COVID!) led to increased interest in gardening, mother nature made it a hard year to grow the plants we had time to tend to. If you were a first-year or novice gardener in 2020 and felt like you had a lot to overcome, you weren’t alone.

Besides being somewhat off due to the pandemic, this summer in Northwest Colorado was also:

Hot and dry: plants that had a good start with our warm spring were shocked to have to survive the blistering heat that July and August brought. In fact, August was the hottest and driest on record in Routt county according to state climatologist Russ Schumacher. Our typical cool-season plants bolted early, wilted often, and suffered from the heat.

Not a banner year, but we did get some production.

But summer was also cold: my garden suffered a set-back on July 1st when an unexpected and unwelcomed frost hit my garden hard. Our zucchini, yellow squash, and cucumbers never really recovered. The hot days we had were juxtapositioned with many cold evenings, which plants struggled with, too.

Late summer and this fall were also smoky: that thick haze can create a diffused light pattern which can help plants, but it can also keep the gardener out of the garden which can lead to increased weed competition, less water, etc.

The chickens love grasshoppers, and really love
that they've now been given run of the garden
This summer was great for grasshoppers: lack of regular moisture in the late spring meant that grasshoppers had no real natural control early in their life-cycle this year, so we saw big numbers in late summer. They also had a voracious appetite. Many flowers and vegetables fell victim to their gnawing.

This summer was tough on trees: many trees in yards budded early when we got the first wave of hot weather, only to be damaged as more seasonable temps came back and froze the new, early growth. This can cause long-term damage to trees, so it will be interesting to see how they look in spring 2021. And who can think about the wackiness of this summer and not discuss the amazing wind that struck the day after labor day? Many mature, beautiful trees broke limbs and branches, snapped in half, or were just uprooted by hurricane force winds. Again, a lot of long-term damage due to this storm will manifest over the next few years, so we don’t yet know what the total damage will be.

And finally, a cold snap now that is seeing well-below-zero temps early: I saw -19 on my way into town today. Most of our trees and perennials have gone into dormancy, but there isn’t much insulating snow around plants. Will our more-sensitive plants that are Zone 4 or 5 suffer as a result? We can often grow things here that can’t survive cold temps because we cover them well with snow before getting below zero. Yet again, we’ll have wait until next year to see what the damage may be.

Yes, this growing season is one we won’t be sorry to see go from a plant-health perspective, but it is one we hate to see go for so many other reasons, mostly because we know a long winter is ahead of us. Stay warm this winter and stay well, and take advantage of this time to plan for the warmer days to come.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

5th Annual Pollinator Summit Goes Virtual

 Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County

Photo by: Arianna Kelley Rawlsky

There is no doubt that more and more people are becoming aware of the important role pollinators (insects, birds and mammals) play in everything from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear. Pollinator gardens are being planted in neighborhoods and researchers spend their careers learning about every facet of these fascinating creatures. Whether you are already immersed in this world or just curious about the state of Colorado’s pollinators, you might be interested in joining the Colorado Pollinator Network (CPN) for their 5th annual Pollinator Summit on Thursday, November 5th. Typically an in-person event, the 2020 Summit will be held virtually for everyone’s convenience and safety.  

The theme of this year’s summit is to look at how we can bridge disciplines and promote conservation actions to protect pollinator habitats and foster pollinator diversity. The organizers hope to welcome a broad audience to explore the state of pollinator conservation in Colorado, identify obstacles to conservation action across disciplines, and identify strategies to overcome the challenges of pollinator conservation here in Colorado and beyond.

The Summit has an array of speakers lined up including international bee expert and bestselling author, Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at University of Sussex in England. He has published more than 300 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects. In his talk he will discuss “why insects are in decline, and suggest how we should tackle this crisis, first by turning our gardens and urban greenspaces into oases for life, and second by fundamentally changing the way we grow food.”

There will be two tracks in which attendees will have the opportunity to listen to expert panels present on various Colorado pollinator topics 1) Education, Engagement and Equity: Inspiring Coloradans to Work for Change; 2) Policy Panel Discussion: Creating and Implementing Policies that Accelerate Pollinator Conservation; 3) Colorado’s Pollinator Research: Building Knowledge to Inform Conservation Action; 4) Managing our Lands to Protect Pollinators and Build Resilient Farms, Rangeland and Cities. Afterwards participants will have a chance to engage in live panel discussions on issues surrounding Colorado pollinators. There will be virtual vendors available throughout the day for attendees to visit as well as poster sessions by area researchers and students.

Sponsors of the Pollinator Summit and the organizing partners include the Butterfly Pavilion, CU Museum of Natural History, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Audubon, CSU Extension in Boulder County, People & Pollinators Action Network, City of Boulder, and CU Community Engagement, Design and Research Center.

Haven’t heard of the Colorado Pollinator Network? From their website: “The Colorado Pollinator Network was established in 2016 with a mission to bring organizations together to work collaboratively to conserve, protect and create pollinator habitat while educating communities across the state of Colorado to protect our pollinators. The Network allows for organizations and individuals throughout Colorado to collaborate to make a positive impact on the health of our state pollinators. This group shares information about the best practices, resources and knowledge to support education initiatives, conservation, restoration and creation of habitat and research on pollinators in the state.”

For more information on speakers, session schedule and to register visit