Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hort Peeves (Tree Edition): Planting to Kill

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

I started my career in horticulture working at Bailey Nurseries in Minnesota. I was a high school student who needed a job, never once thinking how the nursery industry would shape my future. Because of this...and because my brother, Jeffrey, works for Bailey's, I have a deep appreciation and understanding of nursery practices and what's required to produce landscape plants. This is why my blood boils when I see trees mistreated, carelessly maintained or poorly planted--I understand what it takes to produce healthy trees.
Burlap and twine left on the tree at planting. Remove all root ball coverings! Or as much as you possibly can.
Think about it. To help supply the landscape industry, trees are produced at wholesale nurseries throughout the country. The majority of nursery production is on the west coast--California, Washington and Oregon, because they have ideal growing conditions. These states have consistent moisture in winter and long summers perfect for growing ornamental plants. You can produce plants more quickly when you have an optimal growing environment. But that doesn't mean a tree can be grown overnight--in fact, most trees take years to grow.

And then these young trees are delivered to a job site and left to die. Or they are planted wrong, neglected and left to die. Or they are just mistreated and left to die.
Tree planted at the new CSU Medical Center on campus. This tree died within two weeks of planting, likely due to drought stress. It has since been replaced, costing additional time and money.
That's not to say that all nursery trees don't make it--most do. Most of this is preventable. We can prevent tree death if we step up to care for the trees in the first place. I don't have a solution for how to fix this problem, but in true Extension fashion, perhaps a little education is necessary:

All trees start out as a seed or a cutting. It just depends on the type of tree and how it's typically grown. Most named cultivars are vegetatively propagated through asexual reproduction (cuttings, budding, grafting). Some trees, like oaks and redbud, are grown from seed (though they may be grafted later). Seeds are typically fall-sown and cuttings are taken throughout the summer. Regardless, either seeds or cuttings will be sown outdoors or stuck in a greenhouse, nurtured and maintained.
A greenhouse full of maple cuttings.
The young trees (often referred to as "liners") are harvested once they are ready for the next stage of their production cycle, generally after six to 12 months of care.
A maple tree liner.
Trees are dug from the greenhouse and outdoor seedbeds in the fall and transported to cold storage facilities to be sorted and graded during the winter months. The trees are sorted by size, caliber and quality. The following spring, the liners are "lined out" in the field, generally between March and May.

After planting, multiple things can happen. The tree may be budded the first growing season in the field. It may be left to grow for one year so it develops more roots. It may be grown (with regular pruning and training) for a certain period of time (no budding or grafting). Some are even grown in the field for awhile and then transplanted into containers to be grown for an additional year.

But what's important to know is that from seed/cutting to a 1 1/2" to 2" caliper tree may take anywhere from three five years. It will take even longer for bigger trees. That's a long time for the nursery to invest in a product. And that's why it hurts to see these trees dead in the landscape.

For example, if a maple cutting was initiated in the greenhouse this summer, it would be dug in the fall of 2017. It's then planted into the field in 2018. It's grown for another season (2019) and by 2020 it's considered to have a "three year top". The tree may be dug that season or grown for one more and harvested in 2021 (four year top). So after the initial planting of the cutting in the greenhouse, it grows for another four full growing seasons--about five total years, give or take.

This is also why trees are an expensive investment.
If you stop watering (or don't water) the turf, young trees will likely suffer. Remember trees and turf are sharing the water.
Though the industry has recovered quite a bit from the Great Recession, you may have noticed that there was a short supply of trees available for purchase. Calculate back to when those trees would have been started as seeds or cuttings--it would be the late 2000s. Many nurseries stopped producing trees, not knowing if the industry or housing would recover. Things are starting to improve and nurseries are back on track. But there was a definite decrease in supply for a few years.

When you buy a tree or you're planting a job site, make sure you have everything ready to plant. Get the utilities marked. Mark where the trees will be planted. Have water readily available. Make a plan for maintenance following planting. This is far easier for homeowners, who only have to take care of one or two trees. It gets more difficult if you have a large site with 100 trees. But it's not impossible.

So does the grower care what happens to the tree after it leaves the nursery? ABSOLUTELY! Nursery employees spend a lot of time growing trees and want to see their product be successful. We all do.

Monday, August 7, 2017

My Grandpa's garden put baseball in the dugout

Posted by: Darrin Parmenter, La Plata County Extension

As a kid, my memories of a backyard garden are somewhat vague, and honestly, none too pleasant.

For me, summer was meant for baseball. Every day in June and July, the script was already written: wake up, grab the glove, bike to the baseball fields at the old Fairgrounds in Durango, then play, practice and pull weeds (this was pre-child labor laws, apparently). After the game, I’d go to a buddy’s house for a good two hours of Wiffle ball, and be home by evening for a round of catch with dad.

That was it. My world consisted of a ball, bat and glove.

The garden was merely an obstacle to the game. If the batted ball reached the tomato plants, then it was a ground-rule double; the makeshift greenhouse was a foul ball; and if it was wacked to the raspberries, well, then the game was usually over and it was time to find a new ball.

But in 1981, it all changed.

The family took a vacation to grandma and grandpa’s house in Beulah, Colorado. Not too long after the fluids had cooled in the Oldsmobile Omega my parents kissed our foreheads, waved and headed back to Durango. Maybe they wanted to subject us to a week of “granny boot camp,” or maybe they needed a vacation from my sister and me, or perhaps it was simply them wanting us to experience something new during our summer break. Regardless, I was not too happy about being away from my friends or baseball. The thought of drinking grandma’s diluted Kool-Aid from an aluminum glass for a full week still makes my teeth hurt.

After my sister and I got settled, I soon learned that a) Grandpa knew how to play baseball (what a relief!), and b) behind the house, next to the tire swing, was grandpa’s garden. Man, that garden was big, and that soil was black. As children, the dirt was best used to paint our clothes, but as a gardener it was pure gold, and grandpa knew it. It was in this garden where he was always happiest.

He was proud—proud of his space behind the house that he bought, in the town he helped support. He would talk while the kids darted in and out of the two-story corn. Not sure what he was talking about, or whom he was talking to, but I still remember the excitement in his voice. I recall sitting on his knee, shucking beans, him smiling and kidding me about my (lack of) technique. And for once, baseball sat in the dugout while vegetables took to the field.

Baseball continued to be there every summer until I was 17, and I am pretty sure that the week away when I was 9 didn’t set my skills back that far. Grandpa Mickey died a number of years later, and if my memory serves me, so did the garden. There are no photos or journal detailing the crops behind the house. For all I know, the garden may not have been big at all.

photo courtesy of

Fast forward 35 years and gardening - and baseball - are still in our lives.  Ask Beth or Elena, it's way too much baseball; ask Asher and it's not enough baseball and who cares about gardening. Me? I want a bigger garden - you know, the kind you lose baseballs, and hours to. 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Making the Grade: CSU's Annual Trial Garden Evaluation Day

Posted by:  Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension

If you have yet to visit Colorado State University's Annual Flower Trial Garden, you must put it on your lists of things to do! This is a garden that is truly like no other place in Colorado, where research and education meet beauty and community. The mission of the garden is to provide education, research and outreach to students, community members, industry professionals and anyone who wants to learn about how various landscaping plants grow in our unique Rocky Mountain environmental conditions. And while accomplishing that mission, the garden is also a favorite place for lounging, meeting up with family and friends or leisurely strolling through on your way around campus. 
Sun beds of petunias and other annual flowers near the gazebo at the CSU Annual Flower Trial Garden
Earlier this week, over 100 selected industry representatives, staff, faculty and Colorado Master Gardeners from the front range gathered at the Annual Flower Trial Garden to evaluate this year's entries. There were over 800 plant varieties to evaluate for 2017 that were sourced from 19 different companies; including annuals, perennials, patio-type vegetables and novelty varieties. Those evaluating were asked to rate the plants and remark on various traits such as plant vigor, uniformity, flower color and number, unique flower traits, tolerance to environmental conditions and susceptibility to disease. 

Evaluations of sun-loving annuals

Each person involved was given a section of the garden to judge which included approximately 200 of the 800 entries located in both sunny and shady bedding sites, as well as, plants grown in large containers. This year, participants could log their results electronically with a smartphone or tablet by using a website tailored toward each person's list of plants. If I might interject my personal opinion here..the website worked seamlessly and was super easy to use! I love seeing new ways that we can use technology in the garden! 

Evaluations of container grown plants in full sun

Kudos to the students, staff, and faculty who coordinate and maintain the's simply amazing! It makes it hard to scrutinize the flowers when they look so beautiful!
Once the data is tabulated from the day's event, a summary of the results will be published in a Garden Performance Report that will be available for use by the horticulture industry and the public.

If you are interested in learning more about the Annual Flower Trial Garden or view the results from years past, the website can be found here:

The Annual Flower Trial Garden is located at 1401 Remington Street in Fort Collins, Colorado (80523) on CSU's campus.