Thursday, October 17, 2019

Buzzing Research on Pollinator Conservation

Posted by Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

Part of the land grant university mission is to bring the latest scientific research to our community. I want to share a recent experience I had on the front lines of research.

In July, I had the privilege of participating in the International Pollinator Conference in Davis, California. Researchers and land managers from all over the world gathered together to discuss the challenges facing pollinators. I was amazed to hear about the great work being done in the United Kingdom, Germany, Thailand, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, Sweden, and France. While the feeling at times was hopeful and inspiring, I think all attendees recognize that more work still needs to be done to protect pollinators, which are critical to the planet’s ecosystems and human survival.
Here are some of the top areas of research and a few of my take-home messages from the conference:
A sweat bee, Halictus sp. on a cosmos flower. Photo: Lisa Mason

·      Plant diversity is critical for pollinators. Each plant has its own nutritional profile and research is still being done on what chemical compounds benefit bees.
·      There are geographical gaps in bee research that need to be addressed. For example, bee diversity tends to be higher in areas where universities or research stations have sampled and studied the local areas. We are lucky in Colorado to have two universities that are conducting significant research here.
·      Climate change will affect different bees in different ways. Possible effects may include shifts in their natural range, shifts in phenology (meaning changes in flower bloom times that could affect the bees), reduction in nectar and pollen yields, increases in disease outbreaks, increases in heat stress and other physiological effects, etc. Some bee species may be able to adapt better than others.
·      Pesticides is a complex issue and continues to be a major theme in research. Understanding the lethal and sublethal effects of pesticides on bees and the routes of pesticide exposure will help inform best management practices in pesticide use and how to protect bees.
·      Understanding how native bees and honey bees interact and coexist continues to be a new area of research. The honey bee (Apis mellifera) is a non-native species but provides important pollination services for plants, crops, etc. Honey bees also provide honey and wax. Native bees are also critical for our ecosystems and provide different pollination services, some very specialized with certain plants. For example, bumble bees pollinate tomatoes and peppers, which other bees cannot pollinate.
·      Diseases and parasites were another major research area of the conference. We need to understand how diseases and parasites are transmitted from bee-to-bee so we can maintain healthier honey bee hives. For example, flowers can be a place to where bee diseases can transfer. Also, we need to understand if and how diseases can transfer to different bee species.
·      Citizen science continues to be a growing area of research in many fields of study, pollinators included. While many scientists continue to be apprehensive about the data accuracy, more and more research utilizes citizen scientists.
A painted lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui on a sunflower. Photo: Lisa Mason
How Can You Help Pollinators?

Even though there is much more research to understand pollinators, we can take actions now to help our local pollinators. The best things you can do include:
·      Plant more flowers that attract pollinators
·      Wildscape your yard for wildlife and pollinator habitat
·      Cut your turf grass less often or remove areas of turf that do not serve a purpose
·      Leave insect nest and hibernation places alone
·      Think carefully and research how and when to use pesticides
·      Share your science-based knowledge with your family, friends, neighbors, and community
·      Participate in local classes and events to continue learning
·      Learn about the benefits of adding native plants to your landscape
A green metallic sweat bee, Agapostemon sp. climbing out of a Rocky Mountain penstemon flower. Photo: Lisa Mason
CSU Extension has factsheets and a field guide available with information on how to build habitat and attract pollinators to your landscape. Publications include:

I encourage you to keep learning! Protecting pollinators will take efforts from everyone—researchers, land managers, governments, and citizens. While there is so much to learn, we can still use our current knowledge to make a difference.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Fall cheatgrass

Posted by: Kara Harders - Regional Small Acreage Management Specialist, Peaks and Plains

With the first cold snap of the year upon us, we Coloradans tend to have differing opinions of the coming weather and what it means. Some of us are singing “hip-hip-hooray!” for the cool weather, while others are lamenting the shortening days and end of shorts and flip flop season. However, most people who deal with weeds are probably feeling relief as the growing season comes to a dramatic halt.

As with most things in life, there is usually a grey area and an “it depends” answer for everything. The problem plants that seem to fill in this grey area of weed growth in the cooler months are the winter annuals. In my opinion, the biggest offender of the winter annual group is Cheatgrass/Downy brome/ Drooping brome/Bromus tectorum (it makes sense that something so evil has so many names, right?).

(Identifying Cheat grass without the seed head)

This annual noxious weed (which hails from the mythical land of Eurasia) depends entirely on its seed to reproduce year to year, but what makes it sort of unique is that it usually germinates in the fall, not the spring. This allows the plant to get started, lie in wait all winter establishing roots, and then bombard us first thing in the spring and “cheat” the other plants out of space and resources. Cheatgrass germination depends on environmental conditions, especially precipitation. Summer and fall rains cause rapid germination, but the plants need about 2” of rainfall to really get going. Another impressive factor to consider is the seeds can also germinate in the spring if they do not get enough moisture to get a fall start. Due to this flexibility, it is common to have plants of various ages in a Cheatgrass stand. Which is a real get-ya-downer.

So, what can we do?

If you have not seen any of the soft, delicate, lovely, green patches spring up yet, you can apply a pre-emergent to keep the seeds from germinating at all (woo-hoo). If you are seeing young Cheatgrasses you can spray them with an herbicide that effects grasses or simply pull them up. Really, any method of weed control (besides mowing) should be effective at this point. When killing Cheatgrass at this age always consider you are simply trying to kill the roots of this plant. Grazing at this stage is fine for animals but will probably leave viable roots for overwintering and spring growth, for this reason I would avoid relying only on grazing management to control the plant. The biggest benefit to treating Cheatgrass in the fall is they will not have seed heads yet, so you don’t need to worry about disposing of the seeds to prevent a problem next year!

If you would like more information on Cheatgrass in general check out this fact sheet:

Best of luck and happy fall everyone!!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Reflections on a season of indoor gardening

Posted by: John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension
This post details what can happen when a plant enthusiast with a will to tinker moves into an apartment. In this post, I have overviewed some of the setup, challenges, current outcomes, and tips gleaned from my trials with indoor gardening. 

moved into an apartment about a year ago. It had one large south facing window which was light limited by surrounding structures. It had no patio, nor space to grow plants outdoors, nor were there open community garden patches nearby. Slowly, in the back of my mind, the urge to cultivate my apartment space grew. I eventually purchased a few houseplants, yet, I was unsatisfied. I wanted to tinker, I wanted a challenge, I wanted to pick fruit and see flowers. 

One morning, I decided that I wanted a garden and that apartment life was not going to stand in my way. I had grand visions of tomatoes and peppers in winter. I wanted a challenge and a challenge is what I got. 

Early March 2019 - Late September 2019 (Click to enlarge)

Stage 1: The Set Up

Plants need a whole bunch of things to thrive, but for the sake of this post I am going to drastically simplify them as: Soil, Water, Light, and Space. 

I began with a garden plan in my mind; however, most of my plans went out the window as soon as I first arrived at a nursery. There were just too many possibilities and so I opted to make a game out of my garden – What could I keep alive in this plant-unfriendly environment? 

Due to ad hoc planning and prep, I made multiple trips to hardware stores and nurseries; it was fairly inefficient, but I eventually ended up with a selection of plants, containers, and soil. I drilled drainage holes in the bottom of 5 gallon HDPE buckets (for tomatoes and peppers) and purchased short lipped storage bins to catch water. Beneath the storage bins and lids, I placed paper towels to help monitor for moisture and facilitate sliding the containers around. I have heard reports that moisture can seep from terracotta/clay containers and damage floors, and so all of the plants were placed on plastic lids or in bins. 

Note: If I were to restart the project, I would use boot/shoe trays sold at hardware stores. They would likely be less expensive, and I believe that they would be easier to position in such limited space. 

Note the white growth on the soil in the picture on the right; this a type of saprophytic fungi which feeds on decaying plant matter (generally not a major concern for plants). 

Here are some references for starting out
* Container Gardening (Great Overview);
* Vegetable Gardening in Containers (Space);
* Soil (Potting soil is important!);
* Watering:
* Light:
* Insect Control:

Stage 2: Environmental Modification

After a month, many of the plants began to show significant stress. Some were spindly (in search of sunlight), the Asiatic Lilies were succumbing to disease and hadn’t grown but 2 millimeters, and the Lamb’s Ear was slowly losing its leaves. The plants had been carefully watered, planted in decent potting soil with room to grow, but needed more light. 
I thought it would fun to try growing a Mammoth Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus); the kind that can grow 10ft+ tall. It grew 3 feet with artificial support, flowered and then died shortly thereafter.
I eventually acquired and installed a broad spectrum led grow light; the plants didn’t rebound quickly but they did show signs of increased vigor… And then I began to notice the insects. 

I had attempted to avoid an insect outbreak by rinsing the foliage of each plant in my kitchen sink and then spraying some of the plants with Neem oil and/or insecticidal soap. Despite my best efforts, I have found myself locked in battle with aphids and spider mites. In this protected environment, the pesky bugs are able to feed and reproduce without a check or pressure from predators. At one point, I considered releasing predatory insects but then had visions of Cane Toads in Australia… I have so far opted to not venture into this territory, though I am very tempted.

Wiping down and then spraying the plants does seem to provide a brief reprieve from the infestation. I currently believe my challenge of aphid and spider mite management to be two-fold: 1, I occasionally re-infest my garden with new insects as I add different/new plants (to replace those which didn’t make it), and 2, my soap and horticultural oil treatments need to be better timed.  

Additional References

Additionally, I have learned that many potting soil mixes come pre-packaged with fungus gnats eggs. Upon adding water, these eggs hatch, and adults will soon be flying all around indoor environments.  These insects are very minor plant pests, but can be an incredible nuisance. I have had huge success managing the insects with yellow sticky paper; noted in this factsheet on Fungus Gnats: ://

To any adventuresome gardeners considering an indoor garden, I had the greatest struggle with: Asiatic Lilies, Snap Dragons, Sunflowers, Sweet/sugar Peas, Daffodil bulbs, and ornamental grasses. The grasses struggled and failed in the most spectacular fashion.

The tomatoes and peppers seem to struggle up to a certain point of development, after which they grow quite rapidly. The Scotch Bonnet (nursery started) has done amazingly well. It did have a significant set back due to an insect outbreak and me burning it with oils, but three weeks later, it is now flowering again. I have also been surprised by how well the Bougainvillea, Mandevilla, and Pineapple have done.

Stage 3: Success?

What does success look like in a mad-gardener’s laboratory?  I have lost many plants along the way and have added some fun new players such as Purple Passion Gynura aurantiaca, Lavender, and Taro. It has been a worthwhile experiment in my mind. Yields have been low, but my vegetables are just starting to produce... And who knows, maybe I’ll have fresh tomatoes in winter. 

A bit of gardening chaos; perhaps it's time for a mid-season prune.
I have many tales to tell from my trials with indoor gardening: of tomato training, of the importance of wind and humidity, supplemental lighting, container rotation, fertilizing, and manual pollination...  Perhaps this will be the first in a series of indoor gardening blog posts.  

For more information on houseplants, check out this blog posted last Monday:

 Best of Luck in all your gardening endeavors! 
- John