Monday, April 16, 2018

So You Want to Do Some Landscaping

Posted by: Andie Wommack, Douglas County Extension

First thing’s first. Why are you doing this landscaping? Have you moved into a new house with no landscaping? Are you redoing an old landscape? Are you adding an area of landscaping? Next. What restrictions do you have when doing this landscaping? Does your HOA have requirements on the types or amounts of plants you can put in? Do you have water use restrictions, or will you have water use restrictions at some point during the season? Are there topographical or climatic restrictions? Other things to consider are the aesthetics, water consumption, and site preparation needs. There is a lot of planning that should happen before you go to your favorite garden center to purchase plants.
Speaking of plants. One of the biggest things you should think about when planning a landscape is right plant, right place. Colorado is a hard place to live for most plants, even the ones who grow natively here. Most plants that grow well on the east or west coasts will not grow well in Colorado. Rethinking what constitutes a “beautiful” landscape may be one of the hardest things for transplants moving to the area. Planting an Autumn Blaze Maple because you love the beautiful fall color will become problematic at some point in its lifetime. The alkaline soils in Colorado bind iron, making it unavailable to plants. This will cause your maple to become chlorotic. Other plants that need a lot of water to do well, like azaleas, will not thrive in our climate with the amount of water you will be able to give them.
Dryland Mesa Garden

Water in Colorado is the biggest limiting factor for plant growth and survival. We have had a couple years of very dry winters. Looking at the drought monitor for Colorado, the percentage of the state in Extreme Drought conditions has increased three percent just in the last week. ( Roughly 50% off municipal water is used for outdoor landscaping. This will mean there will be mandatory water use restrictions during the hottest months of the year, creating stress on all the plants on your property. Maintaining a lush, green lawn in Colorado can be difficult if you do not plant the right variety of grass and take care of it properly. Landscape plants that don’t have some degree of drought tolerance will also struggle. When planning your new landscape, strongly consider planting xeric plants that will tolerate drought and native plants. Natives will grow well with little to no additional water once they are established in your landscape. They have adapted to grow in our climate so they will be able to survive, for the most part, on only the precipitation that we receive. Another great resource is Plant Select, which is a program run in partnership between Colorado State University and the Denver Botanic Gardens. These plants are tested in trial gardens to determine whether or not they can grow successfully in our climate.
Photo Credit: Jim Tolstrup, Summer
A key thing to note when putting in a new landscape are the needs of the newly planted plants. If you put in a xeric garden, you will still have to water those plants. Xeric and native plants take about three years to get established after planting. If you do not provide supplemental watering during those first three years, you will lose plants. It is also important to note that you will have some plants that will not make it through the first year for a wide variety of reasons. Plan on having to replace some of your plants.

Here are a couple resources to use when choosing plants and trees.

Colorado Native Plant Society:
Low-Water Native Plants, Front Range & Foothills:

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Low Tunnels- Another Option for Season Extension for Backyard Gardeners

Recently I decided to install a couple of low tunnels in our home vegetable garden.  For those who may not be familiar with these contraptions, they are basically a series of short arches placed over a garden bed that are used to support a covering of some type.  The idea is to heat the air and soil under the covering during the day then to retain some of that heat, especially the heat radiated by the warm soil, during the night.

Low tunnel over a raised bed.
We went with a simple design which only required some old rebar we had laying around, PVC pipe and some plastic greenhouse covering we bought online.   Essentially, we pounded the rebar into soil at regular intervals along the bed then slipped the PVC pipes over them on one side of the bed.  Each pipe was then bent and slipped over another piece of rebar on the opposite side.  There are formulas available online to  determine the length of the PVC you need form to an arch of a given height but essentially if your beds are three to four feet in width you want to cut the PVC pipe to a length about one foot wider than the bed.  We chose to install four arches per eight foot bed.  We might have been able to get away with three but the more arches you have the better the tunnel will hold up vs. wind and snow.   
PVC pipe slid over rebar

After installing the arches we placed the greenhouse plastic over them and secured it with clamps.  They make really slick clamps designed specifically for this purpose.  I have ordered some of these but they have not yet arrived.  In the meantime, we are using simple woodworking clamps.

Hoops installed.

Greenhouse plastic is available from online retailers and some garden centers.  Cut to size. this piece is enough for several low tunnels. 
Plastic secured to tunnel with woodworking clamps.  We placed old bits of fabric between the clamp and the plastic to avoid damaging it.

Nifty clamps specifically for low tunnels and similar applications.  Image from Johnny's Seeds.
 Again this is a simple and inexpensive design and does have some drawbacks.  The PVC pipe will oxidize in the sun and become brittle over time.  Eventually it will have to be replaced.  I’m planning on spray painting the ones we used this summer to extend their life.  There are also stronger designs out there that utilize metal hoops.  A quick internet search will yield lots of interesting designs which are almost certainly stronger and more durable.

So, is it worth the effort?  We have had the tunnels out in our garden for almost two months and for us it certainly has been.  We planted cool season greens, as well as some broccoli, in the tunnels late in February and they germinated incredibly uniformly.  I assume this was due to both more constant and warmer soil temperature under the tunnel and possibly to the elevated humidity in the tunnel.  In the middle of March the afternoon soil temperature under the tunnel was over 10 degrees warmer than the soil in one of our uncovered beds.  We are hoping to use the bump in soil temperature to give an early start to our peppers this year.
Soil under the tunnels as was nearly 70 degrees mid March this year. 

Spinach and radishes in one tunnel.

The tunnels do require some maintenance and have some limitations.   Chiefly they need be to opened and then closed on warm and\or sunny days to prevent the plants inside from cooking.  In the late spring you will need to do this nearly every day which kind of ties you to garden. The covering also will normally have to be taken completely off once the season gets started and reattached in the fall.   It can be difficult or impossible to get taller crops under the tunnels in the fall.

Tunnel open for ventilation on a warm day.

On the whole though, I think that low tunnels are a great option for many backyard veggie gardeners. They are relatively cheap and easy to install and can be a very effective way of adding a few weeks or more to both ends of the growing season.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Locoweed's Effect on Horses and Livestock

Posted by Mark J. Platten, Teller County Extension Director

White locoweed (Oxytropis sericea)

This post's focus will be on the various locoweed (Oxytropis and Astragalus spp.) species that can be found in Colorado.  I noticed they really sprang forth around the second week of June in Teller County last year but may be emerging already in the lower elevations.

Locoweed gets its name from the Spanish word loco (crazy) and is the most widespread poisonous plant problem in the Western United States.  As opposed to other noxious weeds we've discussed in previous posts, locoweeds are native species and not covered by the Colorado Noxious Weed Act.

There are three primary species that can be found in Colorado: 1) Purple (Oxytropis lambertii), 2) White (Oxytropis sericea), and 3) Woolly (Astragalus mollissimus).  The flowers can be purple, white, or a variety of shades in between due to cross pollination.  Purple locoweed tends to flower after white locoweed is finishing blooming.  

Horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and wildlife (elk, deer, and antelope) are poisoned by eating any part of the plant, even when dry. Signs of poisoning appear after 2 to 3 weeks of continuous grazing on the plant. Locoweed has four principal effects on affected animals: 1) neurological damage; 2) emaciation; 3) reproductive dysfunction and abortion; and 4) congestive heart failure when grazed at high elevations.

Signs and Lesions of Poisoning
·         Depression
·         Dull dry hair coat
·         Eyes dull and staring
·         Irregular gait or some loss of muscular control
·         Weakness
·         Some animals show extreme nervousness
·         Loss of sense of direction
·         Withdrawal from other animals
·         Some animals develop inability to eat or drink
·         Abortions are common
·         Skeletal malformations may occur
·         Animal may become violent if stressed
·         Reduced libido in males and altered estrous behavior in females

How to Reduce Losses
Purple locoweed (Oxytropis lambertii)
Many minerals and feed additives have been investigated to prevent locoweed poisoning but none have been proven to be effective.  Most locoweed species are endemic, growing only in certain habitats or on specific soils.  Fences could be constructed on soil or vegetation boundaries to provide seasonal control.  Restricting access to locoweed during critical periods when the plant is more palatable than associated forages (spring and early summer).  Maintain conservative stocking rates to avoid forcing animals to consume locoweed when desirable forage becomes limited.  Locoweeds are palatable and of similar nutrient value to alfalfa which helps explain why animals eat them even when normal forages are present. Through social facilitation, animals learn to eat locoweed from each other. 

Pea-like Flowers
Remove animals that begin eating locoweed to prevent intoxication and to keep them from influencing others to start eating locoweed.  Recovery depends on the duration and severity of the lesions.  Although some of the toxic effects may resolve after animals are removed from infested areas, there is no effective treatment for locoweed poisoning, and once affected, they are more susceptible to future poisoning.  Locoed horses should be considered permanently affected since neurologic signs may unpredictably recur, making them of little value as saddle or draft animals.

Control Options
Seeds may remain viable in the soil for 50 years or more, so management requires a long-term plan.  Most varieties of woolly locoweed are naturally controlled by the four-lined locoweed weevil (Cleonidius trivittatus).  Although weevils can be reared in the lab or collected from the field, neither is practical for control due to labor costs, so you will need to rely on their natural presence for biological control. 

Locoweed may also be chemically controlled by spraying actively growing or budding plants with clopyralid, picloram, or metsulfuron by following label directions.  If plants are scattered, treatment of individual plants or patches may not be practical.  Follow precautions when handling herbicides.

Information for this post was gathered from the CSU “Guide to Poisonous Plants” website: