Monday, January 16, 2017

Alexa...Water the Lawn!

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

Alexa has been handy for getting the latest
weather and for listening to music. She will
even tell you a joke when asked!
Many of you own – or have heard about – Alexa: the voice and brains behind the Amazon Echo Dot. In case you aren’t familiar, the Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses Amazons’s cloud-based Alexa Voice service to play your favorite music, tell you what’s on your calendar for the day, read the news, tell you jokes, turn on/off or dim lights, lock your doors, turn the thermostat up or down, etc. Alexa becomes “smarter” the more you use the system – by better understanding your voice and learning your personal preferences (for example, whether you are a Ram or Buffs fan).

Of course, all of this (the running your home part) requires that your household be equipped with WIFI that is constantly on and that you have “smart devices” that can interact with and understand Alexa’s commands. For example, the popular Nest thermostats and Philips LED Hue smart lighting systems can be controlled simply by asking Alexa to turn up the heat or dim the lights. While Alexa herself is relatively inexpensive ($50), the smart devices with which she can interact can be a bit pricey.

I have a new Alexa in my office. Some would argue that she is the smartest person to ever occupy that space. I’ve had my Dot for about a week now, and so far have only used Alexa to tell me what’s on my calendar for the day or week, what the temperature is, to play some music, and what the traffic might be like if I’m driving to Denver - all very handy and a fun way to get that information. I don’t have any smart devices in my office for her to interact with, so can’t speak to her effectiveness there. Sadly, she still can’t tell me who is winning the latest golf tournament or who the top-ranked golfer in the world is (her response “Hmmm, I didn’t understand the question I heard”). Maybe, some day, as she gets smarter?

The Rachio phone app will
allow you to control your
irrigation system from anywhere
using you Android or IOS phone.
Intrigued about any horticultural uses for Alexa, I did some research on applications Alexa might have for the home gardener. I discovered an excellent, reasonably priced irrigation controller that is designed to interact with Alexa: the Rachio smart irrigation controller. If the kids want to go out to play or if a sudden rainstorm occurs and the lawn is being watered, you can simply ask Alexa to turn off the irrigation. Amazing and fun and cool!

More amazing, however, than its ability to interact with Alexa is just how “smart” this Rachio irrigation control system appears to be! It can easily replace most existing home controllers (8 or 16 stations), can be controlled using IOS or Android phone apps, and can be made even “smarter” by installing a wireless rain sensor device to turn it off when it rains and soil moisture sensors to run each station or hydrozone. While I don’t have personal experience with the Rachio system, the fact that it has been tested and certified by the EPA WaterSense and Irrigation Association SWAT (Smart Water Application Technology) programs attests to both its effectiveness and ease of use. You can find them online (Amazon, Rachio) or at Home Depot stores for about $200-250 (for 8 or 16 station controllers).

I will be getting one of these to test this year. Since I don’t have an irrigation system myself, I’m thinking that fellow blogger Alison, her Alexa, and her nice lawn would be a great test site? Alexa…ask Alison if this is a good idea? (Alison: "Yes, this is a great idea if it doesn't cost me anything!").

LG's prototype robotic mower (Source: CNET)
I can’t find a robotic mower that Alexa can communicate with - yet. But the home appliance and TV giant LG has hinted that it will soon introduce a robotic mower that can take orders from Alexa. I’ll search out other smart landscape gadgets that are Alexa-compatible and write about them – unless Alexa becomes smart enough to blog for herself?

If you Alexa fans out there have discovered horticultural uses for Alexa, let us know about them!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Lasting Legacy of a Garden

Posted by Carol O’Meara, Boulder County Extension

White House Garden 2013
Visiting gardens is a favorite pastime of mine, a way for me to get to know cities and people of places I visit.  I love talking with the gardeners or nosing along overgrown paths.   It doesn’t matter where my rambles take me or why I’m there; whenever I can, I take time to stop and smell the flowers.  These gardens, great and small, have boasted towering topiaries, flowing rivers of bloom, whimsical sculptures, and miniature delights tucked into rocky nooks. 
A few resonated so deeply within me that they help guide my philanthropic self, like the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans or the urban community gardens pocketed about the Big Apple by the New York Restoration Project. 

Chef Sam Kass helped found the
 White House kitchen garden (2013)
And then there is the one that indelibly etched itself upon on my mind and soul:  the White House kitchen garden.  Founded in 2009, its low-sided raised beds have hosted thousands of school children over the years as they visit for planting, harvesting, and cooking lessons.  Bees that work the flowers from the nearby hive are an integral part of the lesson plans given to help connect the kids to their food and our earth. 
That humble, working garden feeds both dignitaries and those in need by producing 2,000 pounds of produce each year from 2,800 square feet; a third of the produce is donated to soup kitchens.  In the upcoming transition, the garden appears to be remaining, thanks to a $2.5 Million gift from the W. Atlee Burpee Company and the Burpee Foundation to the National Park Foundation in October, 2016.  The National Park Service cares for the grounds around the White House, including the kitchen garden.

Beyond serving as a living classroom the White House kitchen garden has served as inspiration to home gardeners across the US; many of us rejoiced when it was installed and the historians among us appreciated the nod to former Presidents and First Ladies cultivating those grounds for food. 
Bill Yosses, former White House Executive Pastry Chef,
harvesting chamomile flowers for the WH Mother's Day Tea, 2013
Gardens – and gardeners – ebb and flow in their interests and it wouldn’t surprise me if the incoming administration were less interested in the garden patch.  After all, gardening isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, given that gardeners are often sweating, grimed with dirt, and wearing mismatched socks.  But perhaps First Lady Michelle Obama could leave a pair of her Gucci gloves for soon-to-be First Lady Melania Trump to pick up and wear should she head out to see what the buzz is about on the South Lawn.

I hope she does.  There, past the surprisingly small Rose Garden, the kitchen garden provides a seating area in its heart, where visitors find a little peace and quiet.  It’s always entertaining to watch bees work the flowers, and scents from herbs wash across you as the breeze shifts.
To its creator, the garden bids farewell.  It will endure, as gardens do when changing hands.  For those of us it inspired to get planting in our own communities, our work is not yet done. 

According to the American Community Gardening Association “community gardening improves people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.”

Get active in your community through gardening programs, to keep the legacy of the White House kitchen garden, and our own gardens, alive. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Winter snow brings chance to learn

Mesa County Extension Garden
With the weather that has hit Colorado and a good portion of the nation, gardening may be the furthest thing from our mind.  But winter is a good time for preparation and learning.  Many CSU Extension county offices will soon be starting their Colorado Master Gardener classes.  Though it is too late for you to sign up for the course this year as a volunteer (registration starts in October), many counties offer the different topics as single day options.  So if there is a particular topic you want to learn about such as woody plants and pruning, soils, turf and many others, contact your local office to see if they offer the single day option.  My office, Tri River Area which consists of Mesa, Delta, Montrose and Ouray counties, does offer the single day option taught in Grand Junction.  There is a charge for the day.  Contact Susan Honea in the Tri River Area to reserve your spot at 970-244-1841.  Other offices can be found in this link: select the first letter of your county and scroll down to find the county information.

Besides Master Gardener classes, counties offer or collaborate to bring other great programs.  In my area we have the Food, Farm Forum, the Western Colorado Pest Management Workshop, and several insect talks by Whitney Cranshaw, CSU Entomologist as well as a Soil Health Conference. 

We also collaborate with growers and participate in the Western Horticulture Society event in Grand Junction.  This event starts next Monday January 16th, with a class on FSMA (Food Safety Moderization Act) Produce Safety Rule Training at our local Orchard Mesa Research Station.  Call Donna at 970-434-3264 to pay your fee to attend Monday since there will be lots of handouts.  Then Tuesday there is a tour of farms followed Wednesday and Thursday with classes and an expo.  CSU will have a booth in the expo.  The Monday event is also listed on this website.  For more information go to

The following week is Food Farm Forum in Montrose on January 20-21.  This program focuses on sustainable production, marketing and consumption of local food.   There are 20 breakout sessions in this Forum.  Go to  for more information and registration.

❤On Valentine’s Day, February 14th as a reminder to guys out there, we will be hosting two talks by Whitney Cranshaw, CSU Entomologist, at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.  The first is that morning and focuses on landscape insects and is for Colorado Master Gardeners and tree care providers.  The second is in the afternoon and will focus on Household insects and their control.  This second class is for people that sell household pesticides.  Both classes are free but require registration.  Contact our office at 970-244-1834 to register and for specific class location.

The Western Colorado Pest Management Workshop is an opportunity for pesticide applicators to earn CEUs for their licensing and for others to gain knowledge.  This event is will be held at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction on February 15-16th with many breakout sessions and specific training.  For more information go to or call our office at 970-244-1834.

Western Colorado Soil Health Conference in Delta Colorado will be held February 23 and 24th. This conference is designed for the unique challenges that our region includes and provides a range of topics from the basics to advanced applications.  For more information go to

On the front range, there are also several great conferences to attend.  There is Progreen Expo, The Premier Rocky Mountain Regional Green Industry Conference February 7-10, 2017  in Denver, CO.  Today, January 9th, is the last day for early registration.  I will be speaking as well as many other CSU Horticulture Agents and staff.  Go to for more information and registration.  There are many classes and exhibits all week long.

And as mentioned in a previous CO-Horts Blog, the Second Annual Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference will be held Saturday, February 11 at the Larimer County Fairgrounds (the Ranch) in Loveland.  I attended this last year and it was great.  To register go to


There is the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association 3rd Annual Conference on February 21st.  Register now and join over 300 growers, buyers, input suppliers and ag professionals for this conference.  This conference precedes the Governors Forum on Colorado Agriculture Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver.   More details posted as available at

That should give you plenty of options to seek more plant education just in the next two months.  So while it is cold outside, consider attending an event similar to what I have listed within and get your brain prepared for spring.  Keep warm and safe out there.  It’s one big skating rink in Mesa and Delta counties today.

By Susan Carter, CSUE Horticulture Agent, Tri River Area

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Resolution to Return to Greatness...Zucchini-style

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

For three years I was the biggest zucchini champion at the Larimer County Fair (2012-2014). This title comes with a $2 premium and admiration from my chickens, who enjoy eating giant squash.

But in 2015, I was dethroned by Master Gardener Loni...and in 2016, I was again trumped by Master Gardener Tina. Loni was Tina's mentor for her first year in the program...coincidence? I think not.
Loni, on left, giant zucchini champ in 2015; Tina, on right, champ in 2016.
Tina really did grow a monster!
Most people will tell you I'm competitive. They are correct. I love the thrill of the win...and the joy of competition. But it's all in good fun. And growing enormous vegetables puts my horticulture skills to the test. So my resolution for 2017 is to regain the Biggest Zucchini title. I've already started researching and scheming.

Last year I thought I had the competition in the bag. I bought heirloom zucchini seeds, known to grow whopper fruit ('Crostata Romanesco'). These are a marrow type of zucchini. I ran a separate drip line to the plant and caged it in to protect it from nosy beagles. Maybe I started the seeds too early...maybe the soil was too cold when I transplanted...maybe pollination was poor. At any rate, I had puny zukes all of July and as the Fair approached, I started to panic. Fortunately, one fruit started to develop, but it was too little, too late. My zuke weighed in at a paltry five pounds (Tina's was over nine). Fail.

But the great thing about competition is you always learn something. No more fancy cultivars for me...I'm going to stick with the tried and true 'Black Beauty'. The one you see for sale in the grocery stores. The beauty of...ahem...Black Beauty is that she often produces fruit that hide under the leaves. These are the baseball bats you unearth when weeding. And more often than not, they are larger than the one you can visibly see and are grooming for competition. This actually happens with most squash, but it's always fun to find them.
Black Beauty zucchini (photo courtesy of Burpee Seeds;
In my research, THE place to grow giant vegetables is Alaska. Their state fair is chock full of huge vegetables that will boggle the mind. For example, their current green zucchini champion weighed in at 29 pounds and has held the record since 1995. TWENTY NINE POUNDS! Imagine dropping that on your neighbor's doorstep.

Now, Alaska seems like an unlikely place to grow giants. But while they have a short season, they have gobs of daylight for most of the summer. For example, in Barrow, Alaska (the most northern town in the state), you have 80 days of uninterrupted daylight. (Think of all the rounds of golf you could play in a day!) In the southern part of Alaska, you can get 17-19 hours of daylight from May to July.

So I need long days and a good cultivar. I also need to remember to fertilize. Fertilizer is my biggest weakness....I never remember. I also should water more regularly, since growing giant vegetables takes water. I assume I'm like many gardeners...I am gung-ho and excited in May and my enthusiasm wanes by July when it's hot and I just want to observe the garden from my air conditioned house.

In a perfect world, I would install a high tunnel. Or a small greenhouse. But even I have limits. And a budget. Because again...winning only yields $2! I feel like I'm living that book The $64 Tomato.

I'm not going to reveal all my plans, lest another Master Gardener get the giant vegetable bug, but just know...I have plans. And I will once again reign over Larimer County as the Squash Princess. Does anyone have a good zucchini bread recipe?
So long, small zucchini!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Dealing with Ice

Posted by: Curtis Utley, Jefferson County Extension

Shoveling Snow 
Well, we have had our first big, cold snowstorm of the season and the snow and ice is still hanging around. This is a problem for me because I still walk my youngest to school. Do kids still walk to school? Do people still walk? By law, as a property owner in most municipalities you are required to keep sidewalks cleared of ice and snow for pedestrians. This requirement has been lost on most people who could care less about us few who still use sidewalks, and I have yet to hear of anyone receiving a citation from a code enforcement officer reminding a property owner of their civic duty. So that being said, wise people in positions of authority have always told me, “Do not complain without offering up potential solutions”.
Snow melting into ice across sidewalk

My reply, "To whom it should concern:  The snow and ice found days later post storm on city sidewalks is hindering my free mobility across our fair city, not to mention the direct violation of the ADA standards that should be upheld by our fair city for my wheelchair-bound neighbor. I would like to provide you some information to address this issue."

 When possible, snow should be removed from sidewalks immediately following the storm to prevent it from melting and refreezing into ice. If you have a choice, deposit snow below the sidewalk so as it melts it does not create ice on the sidewalk. If you are planning to install a new sidewalk consider inserting heat cables below or within the slab to gently warm the concrete to prevent snow and ice from forming. Another idea is to keep a bucket of heated sand or gravel inside that can be sprinkled out onto the sidewalk if ice has formed. Sand heated to room temperature (70 degrees F.) will melt into the surface of the ice, and as it cools, it will re-freeze into a less slippery surface. All of these options also have the benefit of being kind to adjoining landscapes as opposed to deicing salts.
Warm sand and gravel will add traction to icy sidewalks 

For your information, chloride salts are harmful to most plants; sodium chloride is the worst followed by magnesium chloride, calcium chloride, potassium chloride and Urea/Carbonyl diamide . Every application of Ice melt increases the potential to cause damage to landscapes. Ice melt salts readily dissolve in water and get flushed into landscape soils where they often remain unless flushed out of the soil profile with copious amounts of clean water. If you only use ice melt salts once or twice per season landscapes probably will not suffer as long as you follow the application instructions on the bag.
Salty melt-water flowing into landscape bed 
Fir needle damage caused by ice melt product

CMA (Calcium Magnesium Acetate) is the only commercially available ice melt product that will not accumulate in landscape soils and damage plants. Unfortunately CMA does have limitations, it works best if applied before it begins to snow, and will only prevent ice formation at temperatures above 20 degrees F. However you decide to manage sidewalk ice and snow, remember that some kids still walk to school. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Boy and Girl Eggplants and Peppers Don't Exist!

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Recently, fellow hortie Carol O'Meara sent an email to a few of us with a link to a blog that advised people on how to choose the best eggplant--based on if they were a "boy" or a "girl". Yes, really. Now, I had heard of the myth of boy peppers and girl peppers, but never eggplant. And let me tell you--it's all bunk. There are no boy peppers or girl eggplants.

(I'm taking a deep breath...this gets me worked up.)

Here's what people claim online:

"Girl" peppers have four lobes and "boy" peppers have three lobes. Girl peppers are sweeter, but contain more seeds. Boy peppers have more "meat" and are better for cooking.

The "boy" pepper is on the left (3 lobes); the "girl" pepper is on the right (4 lobes).
"Girl" eggplant have a slit at the base of the fruit and "boy" eggplant have a "bellybutton". Girl eggplant, like peppers, have more seed, which is bitter tasting. Boy eggplants taste better because they have less seed.
Whew! At least they are organic!
"Girl" eggplant on the left (slit at base); "boy" eggplant on the right (bellybutton).
Ok, so back to science. It is botanically impossible that these fruit have a sex. They can't. When the plant flowers, the flowers contain both male and female parts, known botanically as "perfect" flowers. The fruit develops from the ovary. Yes, the pepper and eggplant fruit are ripened ovaries. But the fruit itself is not sexed.
Oh that a girl cucumber?!
NO! It's just the remnant of the flower.
Now, there are some plants in the world that are male or female. For example, my favorite tree, the ginkgo, has male and female trees. The females are the ones that produce the horrid-smelling fruit. Fortunately, only male clones are sold in the nursery trade today.

But back to the peppers and eggplant...

Peppers can have two, three, four or even five lobes on the bottom. They will vary by cultivar. It also comes down to consumer preference. If you're making stuffed peppers, you look for a pepper that can sit well. If you're just chopping it up for a salad, three lobes may suffice. Many chile peppers have two lobes.
The lobes of peppers: two, three and four.
Now why the eggplant bottoms vary, I couldn't tell you. But it's likely from environmental conditions, cultivar, growth rate or other things. It's just nature. It's how it grows. Just like no two humans are exactly alike, our peppers and eggplants differ. Please stop spreading this erroneous myth. It's silly and quite honestly, one that causes horticulturists to have our eyes roll back in our heads.

What will be sexed next in the produce aisle?

Friday, December 16, 2016

Moving Large Trees at the Plant Environmental Research Center.

Posted by: Eric Hammond, Adams County Extension

Late month many of the more unique trees planted around the perennial demonstration garden at the Plant Environmental Research Center (PERC) on campus at CSU were moved via tree spade to new locations.   The gardens and the trees are being moved to make way for several practices fields which are going to be installed alongside the new stadium on campus.  In all 19 trees were moved including several very large trees which required a 120 inch wide spade.  It was pretty interesting to watch and I thought I would share some pictures and videos of the move.
120 inch tree spade which was used to move the largest of the tree salvaged from PERC.  Larger trees require larger spades in order to dig a large enough portion of their root system for successful transplant.
A slightly smaller tree spade also used in the project.

A slightly smaller spade preparing to dig a linden.
When an established tree is moved with a spade a large portion of its root system and a particularly large proportion of its fine feeder roots are left behind.  This means spaded trees need to be watered diligently for several growing season after they are transplanted.  Water should be applied relatively more frequently with relatively smaller amounts of water compared to an established tree to keep the tree's root system moist without creating a pond at the bottom of hole created by the spade.  
Severed roots can be seen along the side of the hole left by a tree spade circled in red.  A large portion of an established tree's root system is left behind when it is moved with a tree spade. 
It can take a number of years for a spaded tree to establish its root system after transplant and until they do canopy growth is often limited.  Staking recently moved trees is often advisable due to their reduced root system.
Hole left after a tree was lifted with a tree spade.
Here is a sequence of photos and videos of a large upright European hornbeam being moved (thanks to Josh Lambright for the videos):

Digging the hole for transplant.

A upright European hornbeam being dug with the 120 inch spade.

A large spruce being set in place at its new location
Close up of the "root ball" brought with the tree.  The tree root system was likely 2 to 5 times the width of its canopy before transplant.
Large upright European hornbeam after transplant.