Friday, December 14, 2018

Oh Christmas Tree

You have seen my posts in past Christmases about how to pick out a tree and how live trees can actually help the environment.  In past years my family and I have purchased a Christmas tree permit and gone out into the forest and collected our Christmas tree.  We always try to pick one that is crowding another tree to give it some room.  This year the Every Kid in a Park initiative is giving tree permits to 4th graders for FREE.  What a fun way to get kids in the woods and create a family tradition.

I personally don't care if it is a perfect Christmas tree.  In fact I have memories of my Granddad "Poppy" bringing home a Charlie Brown Christmas tree from the mountains when I was a kid.  He liked space between the branches so the ornaments could actually hang.  Only recently has Grandma, who is 96, gotten a fake tree as we call them.

But this year I broke down and bought a tree instead of cutting our own.  My oldest is in college at CSU in Fort Collins and my youngest, who is now 17, was busy with Christmas community activities plus one Saturday there was actually snow accumulating on the mountain- and we still need the moisture.  So, off my daughter and I went in search of a tree.  We decide to support the Boy Scouts since her brother was an Eagle Scout and sold trees one year.  The profits go to help the kids go to camp.  Many of our kids would not go to camp without the support of fundraisers like selling trees.   We pulled up to see 2 moms and a bunch of boys and one little sister helping to sell the trees.  They had Fraser fir, grand fir and balsam fir. 

None of these fir trees are native to Colorado.  Colorado natives include subalpine fir and Douglas fir trees.  These can fall within cutting areas in the national forest.  Other species available for cutting in the wild yourself include Engelmann spruce, lodgepole pine, pinon pine, rocky mtn junipers and perhaps others.  I like the firs as they are soft, have a nice scent, have a nice green color and I am not allergic to them like I am pine trees.  Here is a link to videos of most of our evergreen trees in Colorado. 

The Fraser's were a bit too skinny though I like the way the needles curl upward.  The grand and balsam both have very flat needles but the grand were truly grand and too wide for my small house.  The young boy scout that helped me was well acquainted to the different sizes and layout of the sales lot. So a balsam it was.  As we were pulling away, I spotted a sign about how fresh trees are good for the environment and I agree.  I always pick plant materials over plastics.

The Boy scouts had offered to cut off the end of the trunk for us, but I declined as I didn't know how long it would take us to get it into the house.  Once you cut the trunk, you want to get it into water as soon as possible so it doesn't seal over.  No one wants a tree that won't take up water as it drops needles and turns into a fire hazard.  Not the makings of a Merry Christmas.  So by the next night, my husband cut the tree and got it up.  Now I need to remember to check it daily for water.  It is amazing how fast they can absorb water.   There are formulas out there to keep your tree lasting longer, but I typically just use tap water.

So whether you have that "fake' tree, support a group by purchasing a tree or venture out into the wild and cut your own, with a permit of course, ENJOY your Christmas tree.  It seems like it is up for such a short time.  Merry Christmas.  Susan Carter, TRA Horticulture Agent

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Poinsettia's Pertinent Past

by Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension - Horticulture

Did you know that December 12th is National Poinsettia Day? This holiday was set forth to honor the first United States Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, who served in this role during the Madison presidency from 1825 to 1829. Poinsett had a love for botany and brought the plant from Mexico to his home greenhouses in South Carolina to propagate and share with others in the region. The first poinsettia plant (Euphorbia pulcherrima) was sold with it's new name of ‘Poinsettia’ around the mid 1830’s. 

Joel Roberts Poinsett. Photo credit: Biographical Directory of the United States Congress

The poinsettia has long been equated with the Christmas season, just not as a consumer product like it is today. There is an old Mexican tale of a girl named Pepita that collected a bouquet of weeds to use as a gift because she did not have the means to get something more elaborate. She placed the weeds next to the nativity scene during the Christmas Eve services and they miraculously turned into beautiful and vibrant red blooms. Ever since that night, the flowers have been known as Flores de Noche Buena or Christmas Eve flowers. 

To some, displaying poinsettias may seem like an old-fashioned way to deck your halls for the holidays, but it’s a fairly new tradition to see in homes across America. Furthermore, although poinsettias are native to Mexico, the popularity of the plant and a new ‘budding’ industry actually started right here in the United States just around a century ago by Paul Ecke Sr., a German immigrant whose family settled in Los Angeles California around the turn of the century. Even though the farm mainly produced milk and fruit, they looked at growing the Poinsettia to make some extra cash in the early winter when other flowers weren’t blooming. They peddled the vibrant red flowers from a roadside stand and convinced other growers in the area to also turn a profit by growing the plant as well using Ecke’s stock plants.

Paul Ecke, Sr.  Photo credit: L.A. Times

In the mid-1920’s, the Ecke Farm was moved south to Encinitas because the movie industry began booming in the Los Angeles area. The business really took off after World War II, as air freight began to gain in popularity and they switched their product from stock plants to cuttings that could then be shipped all over in a short period of time. Then in the 1960’s, Paul Ecke Jr. began taking advantage of their Hollywood neighbors and began marketing their flowers to be used on the sets of many popular TV shows. It wasn’t long before the craze swept the nation and Americans began to really associate the flower with celebrating the holiday season. 

Paul Ecke, III holding the original sign from the 1920's packing shed. Photo credit: San Diego Union-Tribune

In later years, as poinsettia plants were grown worldwide, Ecke moved their production operation to the ideal climate of Guatemala to remain competitive with the global poinsettia market (the original Ecke Ranch still exists in Encinitas and acts as their research and development center).  

Poinsettias grown (by me!) in Kentucky. The pink variety is Ecke's 'Enduring Marble'.

The Ecke family’s poinsettia operation at one time produced about 70% of all the poinsettias purchased in the United States and 50% worldwide. After three generations, the Ecke family sold the business to a Dutch company but retained the Ecke name and most of the staff in the process. When horticulturalists today think about poinsettias, Ecke is still the name that comes to mind.

Today, tens of millions of poinsettias are sold each year to help people around the world ring in the holiday season with hundreds of different varieties from which to choose, but red remains the standard.

To learn more about caring for your own poinsettia plants this holiday season, check out Colorado State University's fact sheet on Poinsettias HERE.

Friday, December 7, 2018

How Insects Survive Winter

Posted by: Jessica Wong, PhD Student, CSU Department of Bioagricultural Sciences and Pest Management

Insects have remarkable strategies for surviving Colorado winters. A few species migrate to escape the cold. The most well-known species to do this is of course the monarch butterfly. By now they have made their way to roosting sites in Mexico (or California in the case of monarchs from the Western Slope). The green darner, Colorado’s largest dragonfly, is another species that makes its way south before winter arrives. For the rest of the insects that can’t fly thousands of miles, they stay put right here in Colorado.

Migrating green darner dragonfly. Photo by Praveer Sharma, Flickr Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 2.0
Most insects have figured out how to survive our cold, dry, snowy, sometimes balmy winters. A few, like brown marmorated stink bugs and multicolored Asian lady beetles, will escape the cold by going indoors. Cracks and gaps in door and window frames are great opportunities for them, so make sure those are well sealed to prevent them from invading your house. The rest of the insects stay outdoors and go dormant. These insects produce their own antifreeze compounds to withstand temperatures well below 32 degrees. And they have genetic programming that prevent them from coming out of dormancy too early, which is handy on that 70 degree day in February.
Multicolored Asian lady beetles preparing to overwinter. Photo by Howard Russell & Christine DiFonzo, Michigan State University
Insects overwinter in different life stages – egg, larva, pupa, or adult – depending on species. Most species of aphids and crickets survive the winter as eggs. Aphid eggs can be found on trees and shrubs, and cricket eggs can be found in the soil. Japanese beetle and emerald ash borer are two serious pests that overwinter as larvae (also known as grubs). Japanese beetle grubs spend the winter in the soil under turfgrass, such as your lawn. Emerald ash borers overwinter in their galleries just under the bark of ash trees.
Aphid eggs on pine needles. Photo by Beatriz Moisset,
Japanese beetle larvae. Photo by David Shetlar, the Ohio State University
Emerald ash borer larva in its gallery. Photo by Howard Russell, Michigan state University
Black swallowtail butterflies survive the winter in their pupal (chrysalis) form, while another butterfly species, the mourning cloak, overwinters as adults. Bumblebees and yellowjackets also overwinter in the adult stage. Both bumblebees and yellowjackets are social insects with colonies in the spring and summer, but in the fall workers start to die and only fertilized queens survive through the winter. When spring finally comes all the insects break dormancy and resume their unique life cycles. 
Black swallowtail pupa. Photo by Donald Hall, University of Florida

Monday, December 3, 2018

Finding Your Houseplants a Winter Home

Posted by: Sarah Schweig, Broomfield County Extension

I have houseplants year-round. This time of year, though, I have a house full of plants. Fueled by a love for propagation, a desire to collect unique specimens, and a habit of forming unreasonable attachments to said specimens, it always feels like I have more plants this year than the last.

By now, any plants that were vacationing outside for the summer have been inside for quite a while. If you, too, took the ‘pile them all on the nearest well-lit table’ approach, that’s actually not a bad start. Just as we introduce plants to the outdoors gradually, plants need time to adjust to the move indoors. However, if you’ll need to use that table in the next five months, you may be looking for longer-term winter locations for your houseplants.
Photo: Esther Knox

As you investigate your plants’ seasonal home options, make sure to take stock of how your indoor environment has changed with the season. You may even find plants that are inside year-round would benefit from temporary relocation.

Changes in Lighting
In the northern hemisphere, the sun is lower in the sky during the winter; the sun will rise south of true east and set south of true west. Sunlight is less intense, and objects cast longer shadows. Combine these facts with less total hours of sunlight, and some plants that were receiving sufficient light may no longer be. On the other hand, if deciduous trees provided shade, they have now dropped their leaves. If you experience regular snowfall, factor in the increase in reflected sunlight. Make sure you know the individual light requirements for each plant, and strive to maintain consistency or make gradual adjustments. PlantTalk Colorado offers guidance on what kind of light to expect, depending on the orientation of your windows and seasonal changes here.

It’s worth noting that some flowering houseplants rely on seasonal environmental signals like photoperiod. The popular Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), for example, is signaled to bloom by (consistently) prolonged periods of darkness at night. If your Christmas cactus is placed near artificial lights that are left on at night, the interruption of the dark period will keep them from blooming.

Changes in Temperature and Humidity
Make sure plants are not placed near heating vents or too close to drafty windows or doors. While some houseplants can adapt to a range of temperatures over time, none are immune to the stress caused by rapid temperature fluctuations. This stress makes plants more susceptible to pests and diseases, and the especially dry environment near a heating vent, for example, is optimal for some common houseplant pests like spider mites.

Compared to the indoor environment in a Colorado winter, most houseplants would benefit from increased humidity. To increase and stabilize relative humidity in the immediate environment, you may consider grouping plants together. Keep in mind that good air circulation is also important. Other strategies like pebble trays keep pots and roots out of water but increase humidity around the plants as the water below evaporates. Unless done very frequently, misting plants has little effect on relative humidity and may increase the risk of foliar diseases.

Dialing in on the winter care routine for your houseplants may take some observation and adjustment, but what are 4:30pm sunsets for? Set yourself up for success by researching the needs of your plants, and start with the right site.