Thursday, November 15, 2018

Further evidence on the value of planting native plants

by Irene Shonle, Gilpin County

If you didn’t see it, the Smithsonian Magazine recently highlighted a study which was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month (Oct 2018) (

The Smithsonian’s headline was catchy: Ecologists have this simple request to homeowners: plant native. In it, they summarized the results of a newly released survey of Carolina chickadee populations in the Washington, D.C., metro area which shows that only when an area (a backyard, park, etc), has a proportion of at least 70% native species, will a native bird such as the chickadee be able to survive.
I didn't have a picture of a chickadee, but here are Pine Grosbeaks and finches as some other examples of native birds

 This is because nonnative plants lack an evolutionary history with native fauna and support insect communities that are less abundant and diverse. Given that 96% of all bird species require soft-bodied insects such as caterpillars in order to rear a clutch of young (6,000-9,000 of them!), this lack of insects can spell doom for birds. 
Hummingbird moth caterpillar on native fireweed

According to the study, “most insectivorous birds are absent or declining in urban areas, yet no study has tested whether nonnative plants impact bird populations via food limitation. We monitored reproduction and survival of Carolina chickadees within residential yards and found that when nonnative plants increased, both insect availability and chickadee population growth declined.”  This meant that Carolina chickadees (Poecile carolinensis) had to switch diets to less preferred prey and produce fewer young, or forgo reproduction in nonnative sites altogether. The findings can be extrapolated to habitats beyond the mid-Atlantic U.S. “The general trend will almost certainly hold true, no matter where you are”.

The lead author, Desirée Narango, is quoted in the Smithsonian article: “There has been a lot of press lately about drastic insect declines and insectivorous bird declines. We hear a lot in conservation that things are in trouble, and they are. So I think this study is a nice example of something that we can actually do at home to make some positive ecological change.”
Native plant garden at Chatfield Botanic Garden

The researcher’s article ends with a recommendation that, to promote sustainable food webs, urban planners and private landowners should prioritize native plant species.  I love that this is something that we can all do, in our back yards, to help.  How often can you do that?  Get out there and plant some native plants! 
Goldenrod makes an excellent habitat plant

Monday, November 12, 2018

Veteran's Day

                          United States Flag                                                  Today is the day for all of us to say THANK YOU to all that have served to protect us and to keep us free.  And to tell them that we will not forget their service.  Several years ago, I had a Veteran, Steve, take our Master Gardener class.  Though he has many health issues from serving in Vietnam, he manages to work at our Master Gardener desk answering many gardening questions.  The year after he took our class, he started sponsoring other veterans to take the class.  Some have completed the course and volunteer hours, other did not.  This year we had 3 women veterans take the class.  They all carry some "scares" from serving.  But this year I realized that with a gentle tug and words of encouragement and pointing out the positives was enough to help them forge ahead to finish their 50 hours.  I am hopeful that they will continue to volunteer and learn more about gardening.

One of these strong bright women actually works for the VA Hospital.  She asked me if I would be a collaborator to help her receive a grant that would allow her, and our program, to help teach more veterans and to put in a therapy garden.  The hope is to provide a space of healing and that some learn enough skills to acquire a job in the Green Industry.  Steve and I had discussed this idea for several years but just needed the right person and the grant to come along.  The ball is now rolling to fulfill the dream of helping our Veterans through gardening.

We all know that staying more active keeps us healthy longer.  I recently read a report about how just getting people out of the office at lunch and out into the landscape was enough to improve their mood and productivity, in fact even more then someone meditating for the same amount of time.  Gardening provides exercise, mental clarity, healthy food and a sense of community.  Hopefully we will have a way to track how gardening improves Veterans lives and the lives of others.  If this program does well in Grand Junction, imagine the potential at all VAs across our nation.

So today I challenge you to not only thank a Veteran but think about how your love of gardening could help someone, Veteran or not in your community.  Most CSU Extension offices are currently accepting applications for the Master Gardener / Colorado Certified Gardener class.  Here are the benfits of being a Master Gardener:

And again, thank you to all that have served.
Susan Carter, Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent, Tri River Area.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Why Should You Water Your Trees This Winter

Why Should You Water Your Trees This Winter
Posted by: Andie Wommack, Douglas County Extension

2018 was another dry year for Colorado. 66% of the state is still experiencing some level of drought, with 37% in either a D3 (Extreme) or D4 (Exceptional) drought. Agriculture usually feels the effect of drought during the first year of a really bad drought, but the second year is when homeowners will start to feel the consequences of our lack of water. If it looks like we are going to be facing drought conditions again in 2019, you may experience watering restrictions in your neighborhood if you haven’t already. This could mean that you may not have the water available to play catch-up from not watering during a dry winter season.

Watering your landscape throughout the winter is crucial if we are not getting moisture. Trees should be watered ten gallons per inch of trunk diameter at knee height. If we get winter moisture, that amount can be reduced. Water to a depth of 12 inches since the majority of your tree’s roots are in the top 6-24 inches of soil. Ideally your trees should be watered three times in September, and then cut back to once or twice a month October through March. Water young trees that are not established and evergreens twice monthly if possible. A tree takes one year for caliper inch of trunk diameter to establish. If you planted a two-inch tree, you will need to provide extra supplemental water for two years until it can get established.

Most tree roots extend two to four times the diameter of the tree’s crown. A storm that produces one inch of rain provides a little less than 2/3 of a gallon per square foot. A tree with a crown diameter of four feet would have a root system roughly between eight and sixteen feet. If this tree has a 12-foot root system, it would receive about 67 gallons of water with one inch of rain. Keep in mind that one inch of snow does not equal one inch of rain! According to NOAA, on average, thirteen inches of snow equals one inch of rain.

Lack of moisture in the months of October through March can cause damage to the root system of plants which then affects their overall health. Drought stress will begin to appear in late spring and summer when the temperatures begin to rise and precipitation amounts decrease. Stressed plants are also more susceptible to disease and insects.

Make sure that you water on days where the low temperatures will stay above freezing and the daytime temperatures are above 40 degrees. Water earlier in the day so the water has a chance to soak in to the ground before temperatures decrease at night. Disperse the water evenly around the whole tree underneath the canopy and roughly three feet from the trunk.

Your shrubs will also need extra water! A small established shrub that is less than three feet needs five gallons every month from October through March. A large established shrub that is more than six feet needs 18 gallons monthly. Newly planted shrubs require the same amount of water twice a month. Mulching is also a great way to retain moisture around your plants! Keep in mind that if it is dry, your turf will need to be watered as well!

Check out these resources for more information:

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

2018 “Best Of Winners” from CSU Annual Flower Trials

Posted by:  Jim Klett, Professor, Department of Horticulture and L.A., Colorado State University

The following are some of our “Best Of” winners from the 2018 trials.  The complete list with photos can be found on our website 

Best of Show – Salvia ‘Big Blue’ from PanAmerican Seed 
A later bloomer that is worth the wait was impressive with large flower spikes that are showy in the garden as well as making a good cut flower.  Plants had dark green foliage, strong upright growth habit, excellent branching and very uniform overall.  A strong favorite with bees as well as humans.

Best Novelty - Artemisia ‘MAKANA™ Silver’ from TerraNova
This fine textured foliage plant makes a great complement to many other plants in a classic border.  The beautiful silver foliage is dense on vigorous and very compact and uniform plants.    It would look great in both a container as well as ground.  It makes a good filler plant as well adding a strong textural element to any garden.

Best New Variety – Rudbeckia ‘Rising Sun® AS Chestnut Gold’ from Green Fuse Botanicals
Huge flowers covered this plant all season creating impressive flower power.  Besides the prolific flowering, the intense coloring of the flowers make this a definite “55 MPH plant”.  It is impossible not to be impressed even from a brief glance at a great distance. 


Begonia semperflorens (Shade) - 'Megawatt™ Pink Bronze Leaf’ from PanAmerican Seed
The vigorous plants were characterized by their large leaves, strong stems and large flowers.  The bright pink flowers were very floriferous and had excellent contrast with the dark foliage.  Blooms were self-cleaning so the plants always looked fresh.

Celosia – ‘Kelos® Fire Scarlet’ from Beekenkamp
The attractive dark foliage was impressive all by itself but the abundant petite flowers were bright and made a great contrast with the foliage.  Plants are vigorous and have good garden performance.

Coleus – ‘FlameThrower™ Serrano’ from Ball FloraPlant
The attractive dark red foliage had a bright green edge that created a lot of contrast and a bold look.  Leaf shape was also unique and added interest.  Plants did not flower and kept a very uniform appearance all season.

Combination – ‘Kwik Kombos™ Fire and Ice™ Mix’ from Syngenta
Plants created a ball of flowers in a container that had a very high “Wow!” factor.  Colors were vibrant and made an excellent mix.  It was noted that very few combos work with different genera but this is the exception as the bidens, petunia and lobelia were equally represented and none dominated the other.

Dahlia – ‘Temptation Orange’ from Dümmen Orange
The intense dark foliage makes the color of the clear orange flowers really pop out.  The contrast was especially good in full sun and flower color doesn’t fade.  Dark foliage also hides dead heads and requires less maintenance.  Growth habit was very uniform.

Geranium (Zonal) – ‘Brocade Cherry Night’ from Dümmen Orange
Plants were unique with foliage that has a very large zonation with a rich chocolate color.  The dark foliage makes for high contrast with the bright rose-colored flowers.  The tight double flowers have a bit of a multiflora look to them.  Overall the plants were very uniform.

New Guinea Impatiens – ‘Sun Harmony™ Blushing Orchid’ from Danzinger
Plants were both vigorous and very floriferous and made a very colorful container.  The large flowers held up to the sun and had added interest due to the light lavender striping in the petals.  Growth habit was very uniform.

Osteospermum ‘Osticade™ Lemon’ from Danziger
Abundant clear yellow flowers were unusually large and had a deep yellow eye for added interest.  Blooms were consistent all season long and very showy with uniform plants with clean foliage.

Petunia (Spreading) – ‘Supertunia Vista® Bubblegum’ from Proven Winners
This is a multi-year winner from many past trials and is considered to be possibly the best petunia in the last 10 years.  It always has a dependable show of prolific pink flowers with exceptional vigor.

Verbena – ‘Lanai® Upright Twister Watercolor’ from Syngenta
Abundant flowering covered the canopy almost all season with attractive shades of soft lavender that was attractive even as the blooms faded.  Plants had a long lasting flower display and seemed to “bury its dead” blooms under new ones.  Uniform growth habit and lack of any sign of mildew also made this plant a winner.

Vinca – ‘Tattoo™ Papaya’ from PanAmerican Seed
Very unique flower color and abundant blooms were very impressive.  Flowers had a very unusual and beautiful “inky” blush pattern that helped earn the first part of the name, “Tattoo”.  Plants had an upright growth habit and can grow well in full sun or part shade.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Uses for Fall Leaves

By: Sherie Caffey, CSU Extension-Pueblo County Horticulture Agent

I don’t know about your neighborhood, but where I live we have fall leaves covering just about every yard right now! What to do with all of them?! Raking them into a pile to jump in sounds fun, or how about filling up a festive yard bag with a Jack O’ Lantern face on it? Or you could do something more useful with them. Believe it or not fall leaves have many beneficial uses in our landscapes.

My neighbor's Sycamores give me lots of fall leaves to use
You can use fall leaves to add organic matter to your garden beds. Adding organic matter will help your soil hold more water and nutrients, and improve the texture. The ideal soil has about 5% organic matter, which is a lot more than most of natural soils contain. Work leaves into the soil in the beds, and moisten it every so often this fall and winter. The microbes in your soil will break those leaves down into organic matter, which will improve your soil’s quality come next spring.

Do you have fall planted bulbs or garlic? Or maybe some perennials you are hoping to over winter? Mulching plants over the winter helps them to survive until next spring. It stabilizes soil moisture and temperature, giving your plants a more stable environment, and protects them from the elements. It will also prevent newly planted bulbs from frost heaving. Fall leaves are a great source of free mulch. Spread a layer roughly 6 inches deep over your bulbs, perennials, trees, and shrubs this fall to protect them.
Free mulch!

My biggest leaf accumulation is in my lawn. The best thing to do with the leaves on your lawn is to mow right over them and leave them on the surface. It’s much easier than raking them plus it’s good for your lawn! They will break down and add organic matter to your turf. They will also prevent weeds and lower the need to fertilize. If you have so many that you can’t see the grass blades, use your mower bag to collect them and store them for future use.
Leaves waiting to be mulched onto my lawn

Finally, fall leaves can be very useful if you have a compost bin at home. They are a great carbon or “brown” material for your compost. Each time you throw in kitchen scraps, throw in a handful of dried leaves as well to keep a good carbon: nitrogen ratio going. Be aware that leaves that were showing any signs of disease should probably not be used around the landscape.

So don't throw those leaves out in the garbage! Find a use for them around your landscape.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Victor Frankenstein should have taken up gardening

Posted by Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

Cue up some Edgar Winter, it’s time celebrate the birthday of one of our most iconic Halloween bad boys: Frankenstein.  Two hundred years ago, Mary Shelly published the story of the reanimated monster that’s shuffled and groaned its way into the pantheon of ghouls that define the season.

Shelley shocked the world with her gothic horror treatise, widely regarded as the first true science fiction novel rather than fantasy, because it drew on scientific concepts of the day.  Pulled together from pieces of cadavers, the monster was reanimated through electricity from lightning.
A sewn-together creation of bits and pieces is nice and all, but gardeners know her tale isn’t as far-fetched as we’re asked to believe.  We’ve been doing this for thousands of years.  We live with creatures grafted together all the time; in fact, we search them out and make them the centerpiece of our landscapes.

Some are subtle; so seamlessly grafted you don’t realize its two different plants put together.  Others show the graft proudly, and gardeners use this to guide them in planting to proper depth.  Grafting provides us with plants that are sturdier, more disease resistant, or smaller than the original.  It’s how we get cultivars of the same fruit on tree after tree in orchards so we can enjoy Honeycrisp apples or Cresthaven peaches. 
In order to make sweet, edible apples one needs to grow the exact cultivar by cloning as grafts on rootstocks. If you try to grow them from seed, you get the result of apple flowers crossing with other, usually crabapples.

It’s also how we have trees sporting several different fruits on the same plant.  Often called “fruit cocktail” or “fruit salad” trees, gardeners with big desires but small space can have it all: with four, five, even six different fruits on a single trunk.  Nectarines, plums, apricots, and peaches or red, green, and yellow apples come together in a fusion of flavor.
Scientists are running wild having successfully grafted fruit trees they’re grafting anything that doesn’t move in the garden: tomatoes, melons, the neighborhood rabbits.  Ok, maybe not the rabbits, but horticulturists are very excited about grafting.

Clones, too, surround us; they give us perfect replicas of plants we covet at other’s homes or businesses. Technically, the definition of plant cloning is human-controlled asexual propagation of a plant, which doesn’t sound fun at all. But we do it all the time.
While Victor Frankenstein raided graveyards for his body bits, we raid plants we see while walking the neighborhood or sitting at the doctor’s office awaiting our turn.  With a quick, surreptitious pinch, we snitch a bit of plant to put in water for rooting, thus cloning the plant.  Love that African violet?  Pinch off a leaf and plant it.  The begonia at an atrium in the mall?  They root nicely from leaves as well (readers: denuding a plant you don’t own is unethical.  Ask permission before taking anything from the plants you see).

When it comes to bringing things back from the dead, gardeners have much in common with Victor; anyone who’s had a jade plant fall and shatter into pieces knows the desire to resurrect it by shoving a bit of stem or leaf into potting mix (the leaves should be dried a bit before doing this, but that’s a different story).  It takes a while for the leaf to root but shocking it with electricity to speed things up would end in disaster.
Ultimately, Victor wasn’t such a bad guy; he simply needed to take up gardening.