Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Plant native plants to support native bees

By Irene Shonle, Gilpin County

It’s no secret that honey bees are having a hard time. Farmers, beekeepers and biologists sometimes refer to it as the “beepocalypse.” This worry has contributed to a huge national uptick in interest in backyard beekeeping, often in an effort to help the crisis. Other beekeepers may be in it for the sheer joy of watching and tending their colony, for the delicious honey, or as part of a self-reliant philosophy.
Honey Bee
Honey bee - photo by Lisa Mason

Honey bees have somehow become the symbol for environmental conservation – “save the bees” is a rallying cry that many are heeding.  But are we paying attention to saving the right bees? “Honeybees are not going to go extinct,” says Scott Black, executive director of the Xerces Society. “We have more honeybee hives than we’ve ever had and that’s simply because we manage honeybees. Conserving honeybees to save pollinators is like conserving chickens to save the birds.” 

Native bees are much more important pollinators than honey bees, yet their populations are in trouble, too, with much less press.  Even though honey bees are much easier to manage, tote around, and bring to an area at a specified time, managed honey bee colonies only supplement the work of natural wild pollinators, not the other way around. In a study of 41 different crop systems worldwide, honeybees only increased yield in 14 percent of the crops (Garibaldi et al, Science, 2013). So, while keeping bees is helpful for honey bees, we should also be doing everything we can to support our struggling native bees (there are over 4,000 native bees in the U.S., and 946 native bee species in Colorado alone).

Make no mistake, native bees are experiencing declines equal to if not more intense than honey bees.  The rusty patched bumble bee was the first bee in the lower 48 states to be listed as an endangered species after its population shrank by an estimated 91 percent in 20 years. Many other bees are also experiencing population loss. For a list of “red list” bees (bees that are possibly extinct, critically imperiled, imperiled or vulnerable), go here: Reasons for bee decline include increased prevalence of pests and pathogens, poor nutrition and pesticide exposure. 
Bumble bee
Bumble bee - photo by Micaela Truslove
There are many things you can do in your garden to help our native pollinators. Plant a diversity of native plants, and make sure you have something blooming for the whole season. This will help with the nutrition issue. It will also help honey bees, as they need all-season food as well. Native plants provide the best plants for native pollinators, due to coevolution.  Don’t buy a generic “pollinator mix” seed packets that may contain species not native Colorado. The other bonus is that native plants will be easier to grow, since they are adapted to our crazy Colorado climate.

Reduce your use of insecticides to reduce bees’ exposure. If you keep bees, make sure you are vigilant about diseases. Honey bee diseases can also spread to native bee populations  There are at least two pathogens that infect honeybees that have been observed to cross over into populations of wild bumblebees.

Keep some of the ground bare to provide for nesting sites for ground-nesting bees.  This can be just a few inches to a few feet, but put it in an open, sunny, well-drained spot.  You can also provide nests for wood dwelling bees:
Enjoy the buzzing!

For more information, please see this fact sheet:

Friday, January 11, 2019

Guttation – Just a Curious Plant Thing?

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

Plants don’t do meaningless, stupid things. Every process and reaction that occurs in plants has a
purpose – although the purpose or benefit might not be apparent to those of us who grow plants. A great example of a “why does the plant do that?” came up this week – the occurrence of “guttation”.

The white spots on the leaves of this
hydrangea occur when guttation evaporates,
leaving behind salts and sugars that
were dissolved in the guttation fluid.
So why write about guttation in January? Well, a couple of days ago fellow blogger Alison received a cool photo from her brother Jeffrey, head grower/propagator for Bailey Nurseries in Oregon (you can read more about what Jeff does at Bailey Nurseries in this blog by Alison). The leaves on one of the many hydrangeas he is growing had an interesting pattern of white deposits on the leaf margins. What are they… where did they come from… and are these a problem?

Turns out that these spots are residue left behind after droplets of guttation fluid had evaporated from the hydrangea leaves. Guttation is water that is forced out of pores called hydathodes that are present in the leaves of some plant species. Different than stomata (structures on leaf surfaces that open and close to regulate air and water exchange), hydathodes are always open and are connected to the xylem of the plant (those tube-like structures in stems and leaves that move water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves).

Guttation on grass leaves (often occurs along with dew) can
encourage the occurrence of some diseases - so early morning
irrigation can wash it off and help reduce disease incidence.

Under nighttime conditions of high soil/media moisture levels, warm soil temperatures (think summer…or a warm greenhouse), high relative humidity, and cool air temperature (cooler than the soil or media in the container), roots will absorb water that travels upward in the plant to the leaves. Since stomata are mostly closed at night – which prevents water loss from the leaves – this water being forced upward into the leaves needs someplace to go. The hydathodes allow the water to exit the leaf, acting as a sort of pressure relief system. The result is that droplets of water form on the margins and tips of leaves during the early morning hours. After a few hours of sunlight, the water evaporates - sometimes leaving a whitish residue on the leaf.

Tomatoes (and many other vegetables) can form guttation. It is 

thought that bacteria and viruses can be "sucked" inside the
plant leaf when guttation dries - providing a opportunity for 
The white deposits occur because guttation droplets contain some amount of mineral salts, sugars, and amino acids. The saltiness of this residue can occasionally cause a slight burn on leaf edges, but it's usually harmless to the plant. Because it's often sweet from the sugars, it may attract ants, foraging bees, and other pollinators. In the case of turfgrasses, it is considered important to remove guttation early in the morning by watering or mowing – the goal being to reduce the occurrence and severity of some diseases (fungi may use the sugars in guttation as a food source).

Guttation doesn’t occur with all plants. Because of physics (we won’t go there!), guttation occurs in shorter plants (less than about 3 feet tall). Guttation has not been observed with conifers, but is very common in grasses (like your lawn!). It is also common on some houseplants (including many succulents) – especially if you water your plants just before dark.

The residue left behind when guttation evaporates is often
mistaken for disease or an insect infestation. Look
closely to be sure before you attempt control of a
non-existent problem!
So is guttation a problem for plants? Aside from the minor leaf edge burn that might occur from salt deposition, guttation is generally a harmless occurrence in most cases (so Jeff’s hydrangeas should be just fine). However, there is good evidence to suggest that the organism responsible for bacterial canker on tomatoes and botrytis gray mold can be present in the guttation of infected plants – and can be easily spread to healthy plants by gardeners tending their plants early in the morning before the guttation has dried. Similarly, viruses like tobacco mosaic virus have been found in the guttation of infected plants, which can then be spread healthy plants on mornings when plants are wet from guttation and dew. This suggests the importance of adequate plant spacing and careful removal of obviously diseased plants (tomatoes, cucumbers) from among the healthy population. Finally, less observant gardeners may mistake the white guttation residue for scale insects, mealybugs, or powdery mildew – leading to unnecessary and ineffective treatments for a non-existent problem. So carefully and closely check those white spots on your jade plant for guttation residue. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Behind the Scenes at the Tournament of Roses

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension; and Shirley Reed, Larimer County Master Gardener
Photo from
Master Gardener Shirley had the experience of a lifetime on New Year's that takes place in Pasadena, California. Shirley got a gig helping create floats for the 130th annual Tournament of Roses parade. I watched the parade this year and still find it hard to believe that the floats are, indeed, created from plant material. It's fascinating!

The process to create these breathtaking floats starts a year in advance with the theme--which was "Making a Difference." All float designs must be approved by the tournament committee to assure that each is unique. Construction, however, is done from March to December, with the average float taking four months to complete. There are four professional builders that create the majority of the floats. The floats are tested to ensure they are mechanically and structurally sound.
Float assembly leading up to the main event (photo from
The floats are eligible for one of 24 trophies, awarded on December 31. For the parade, floats are lined up and two float operators man the float--one operating the steering, engine, gas and brakes....all without being able to see the road. That brings in the importance of the second operator, who verbally cues the other person on if they need to speed up, slow down or turn right and left. The route is over five miles long and takes two hours. (Shout out to the marching bands!)

Shirley sent me a bunch of photos and details about how they create these beautiful structures. With dozens of other volunteers, Shirley did her share of assembly and flower placement! She also had the pleasure to meet Dr. Tommy Cairns, a California Master Gardener and Rosarian, who gave a lecture on the roses they use on the floats.
Shirley with Dr. Tommy Cairns, Rosarian and fellow Master Gardener
Enjoy a tour of Shirley's photos on how these creations come to life.
This purple flower was made from statice flower dust and great northern beans.
For the photograph above, volunteers trimmed the buds off statice flower stems, which were then ground up in a blender to make a fine flower dust. Volunteers placed each identically-sized bean on the structure, which took some time.
UPS Store float in the 130th Tournament of Roses
The feathered wings for the UPS Store float were orchid petals!

A friendly teddy bear--made entirely from plant material.
For this float, beans were used to create the butterflies. Golden mums cover the bear and blueberries dot his eyes.

Singing frogs delight!
The frog jackets are all roses. The bumps on their heads are limes, oranges and grapefruits. The log was made from wood mulch.

Shirley stripping off leaves from the yellow roses.
With 95 other volunteers, Shirley's assignment was to strip leaves off rose stems, cut the stems to 4", stick them in a vial of water and place them on a foam board.
Thousands are roses are used for parade floats each year.
After eight hours, Shirley and her team completed the preparation for 32,000 roses to be applied to 11 different floats. Roses are a bit perishable and can only be applied to the floats two days in advance. Other plant material is more sturdy. Though her back ached some, she was thrilled with doing her part! What an incredible experience...and the Buckeyes won the game--a win-win for everyone.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Seeking a State Colorado Master Gardener Coordinator

Posted by Curtis Utley, Jackson County Extension
While this isn’t much of a garden story it may still be of interest to you. Colorado State University Extension is actively seeking applicants to fill a vacancy. What position you ask?  We need a talented individual to be our next State Master Gardener Coordinator. If you love the Master Gardener program maybe you should apply for the job!  For full details and requirements please follow the link below to see the full job description. Applications are due Thursday, January 31 at 11:59pm MST.