Monday, September 23, 2019

"Plant Parenthood" - The rise (again) of houseplants

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension


Aaaaah, houseplants. My childhood homes were full of them. Both of my parents have green thumbs and it seemed that every nook and cranny had some lovely, green, leafy thing adding to the coziness of our abodes. Many of those same plants STILL reside with my folks and I'll just say that I grew up when MTV only played music videos and big hair and spandex were all the rage. Sometimes my chores included watering those plants and I always felt a little anxious that I was going to over-water one of the many, many pots and have to run for a towel and dry up the mess as it came cascading down out of the saucer. C'est la vie, it happens to the best of us! 

It's no surprise that once I moved out of my parent's home I began to fill my own with my collection of plants. Some I purchased, some I inherited and some were from cuttings that I took from office buildings, restaurants, college campuses, etc. What?!? Don't tell me  you never popped off a spider plant baby, stuck it in your bag and put it in a glass of water when you got home!!

Anyway, there are many, many houseplants available, depending on your lighting, your level of commitment and so on. They are great! They clean the air, bring life into a room, and some studies show they reduce stress and can boost creativity. Who doesn't want all that? Well, as it turns out, the millennial generation is hip to all this. Good on ya!! Sales of houseplants are up nearly 50% over the past few years and businesses attribute much of that to young folks (those in their 20s and 30s). I heard this figure as I was driving along listening to the radio recently. The show was one that typically covers some pretty hard-hitting topics in politics, religion, social justice issues, etc. But when I tuned in, what did I hear?? They were interviewing people about houseplants!! I was so excited!! I kept thinking this must be just a little 5 minute blurb, but no! The whole show was dedicated to it!! What fun for all the plant nerds out there. Apparently social media is playing a huge role in the rise in interest in houseplants. People like to show off their successes and find a community and support around caring for them. 

I highly encourage you to go to the link below and give a listen. You'll learn all kinds of interesting trends and other information about houseplants. Plus, it's just fun to hear a nationally syndicated radio program highlighting our indoor, foliage friends!!

The Perks and Perils of Plant Parenthood on 1A 

Six popular houseplants that help clean the air:

Chinese Evergreen


Spider Plant

Aloe Very

Peace Lily

Thursday, September 19, 2019

A Pesky Invasive That Can be Managed

Posted by: Nancy Klasky, Broomfield County Extension

You may have seen common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) scattered along roadways, mountain canyons, rangelands, or in forests. The tall stalky plant has yellow blooms gathered at the top and large sage-colored leaves at the base. It grows profusely after major disturbances like fire, construction, or flooding. Common mullein is an introduced species and is present in all 50 states and Canada. Originally brought to North America for medicinal purposes, it has been designated a C List Noxious Weed by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which means it is up to private and public entities to manage. 

I got to learn a lot about mullein after the High Park Fire west of Fort Collins. This lightning- ignited fire started in June of 2012 and due to the hot, dry spring, it burned over 87K acres and destroyed 259 homes before being contained a month later. I worked on land in this area at the time and saw first-hand both the devastating effects of the fire and the renewal of the forest that followed. After all, when occurring naturally, fire is a cleansing process that actually keeps our forests healthy. If left unmanaged, accumulated duff (forest litter) and smaller shrubs and trees can create dense, overgrown forests that can cause cataclysmic wildfires. Some regular burning keeps this in check.
Common mullein before mitigation work.
Tiny seeds find their way into crevice of rocks and form first year rosette. 

The land I worked on is a mixed forest just over 8,000 feet in elevation. It’s primarily ponderosa pine, with some Douglas fir and aspen. Ponderosa pine evolved with the wildfires. Thick bark protects them from destruction by low-intensity fires, and natural loss of lower branches reduces “ladder fuel” that allows fire to climb to the crown of the tree. Much of the surrounding land was turned into a moonscape by the High Park Fire, with 100% mortality of trees and other plants. On the managed land, many ponderosa survived, but most other vegetation was destroyed. This created the ideal environment for common mullein to grow, and boy did it grow. Where once there was an abundance of wildflowers, kinnik-kinnik, and common juniper shrubs, there was now a forest of mullein.

Mullein seeds will survive a fire and can remain viable for 100 years! They may have been in the area for decades, unable to germinate until this disturbance. Worse yet, each of these plants can produce 100,000 to 250,000 seeds per terminal spike. I had my work cut out for me, but I was determined to see this beautiful property restored to its natural state. 

Common mullein is a biennial plant, which means it takes two years to grow to its mature height and bloom. The first-year plant is a basal rosette that stays low to the ground and does not flower. If the plant lives to the next year it will bolt up and bloom. Management techniques that work with this lifecycle are important to stopping the spread of this invasive plant and not exacerbating the problem. 
Last years deadheaded stalks with no new mullein growing!

Like I mentioned mullein likes disturbed ground, so how do you get a plant out of the ground without creating more disturbance? First, you only want to remove the plant if it is a first year rosette. The roots are shallow and usually easy to pull up. It’s important to try and press down the soil as you pull the plant out. Yanking the plant out will give the seeds you know are there a better chance. If the plant has made it to the second year, which was the case with many plants by the time we got to them, you want to cut the bloom off before it starts to dry and drop its seeds. With the help of great groups of volunteers we were able to make many trips to the property to work on the mullein issue. Each year we saw less of the plant come back, and each year we worked to remove what did pop up. With persistence and determination, we saw the native wildflowers, kinnick-kinnick, and juniper shrubs take back what was theirs! The beauty of the restoration is when the native vegetation grows back, that is enough to keep the mullein from growing. There are other management options to consider, but I found the mechanical removal of this plant the best one for this area. 
The property with it's natural vegetation having taken back over.

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Trip to the Sod Farm: Green Valley Turf

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

The same day that we visited Arrowhead Dahlias (that Amy just blogged about), we also visited the Platteville location of Green Valley Turf. Did you know that sod farms are a huge part of the agriculture industry in Colorado? We have some of the best sod farms in the nation--farms that are providing your favorite sports team with high-quality turf. REAL turf. Not that icky fake stuff.
Real, genuine turf. Love it!
But what Green Valley is doing to grow their sod is completely different than anywhere else in the nation. Essentially they are growing on plastic. Yep, plastic--with a couple inches of sand. And they are producing the Creme de la Creme sod for sports fields, such as the Broncos, Kansas City Royals, the Minnesota Twins (go Twins!), and more. It was a fascinating process.
Horties at the Green Valley Turf in Platteville.
Our tour guide was Evan Fowler, who has Extension roots in his blood, but worked as a sports turf manager for years until he joined Green Valley. The guy loves turf and has such passion for it.
Evan explaining about Green Valley's growing practices.
What Green Valley has found over the years is that growing high-quality sod on a sand-based system is the best way to produce turf that can be installed and immediately used by professional sports team. What you may not realize is that professional sports parks, like baseball fields and soccer pitches, are built on sand. Sand provides the best drainage and aeration for turf roots. These sports complexes are very different than our home lawns.

Growing sod on plastic isn't easy and it's taken lots of trial and error to figure it out. The concept is pretty simple--a layer of plastic on top of the native soil, top with a couple inches of sand (specific to growing sod and better matched for sports complexes), and grass seed. A few months later (maybe a year later), you have a thick mat of turf that you roll up, ship out, lay down in the new location, and welcome play.
Layer of plastic, layer of sand, and seed. The result? Amazing sod.
What's incredible is the root system. This stuff is knitted so well together with roots that you couldn't tear it apart, unless you had super-human strength, like the Hulk. We all tried to rip it apart and our attempts were futile. When you put a 300 pound linebacker on it, he can't rip it apart either, leading to great footing and excellent playability and safety.

This sod was grown for the Broncos. Just a few days after our tour in August, it was being trucked to Denver to replace the field after the Rolling Stones concert. The Broncos had a home game a couple days after the field was sodded. They lost, but it wasn't because of the turf quality.
Yes, this is the current Denver Broncos field!
Our big thanks to Evan and his team at Green Valley for a great tour. We learned so much and everyone had a greater appreciation for the sod industry. Green Valley does have sod available for homeowners too. And for the Broncos coaching staff--maybe you want to consider recruiting some horties for the team?
Go deep!

Monday, September 9, 2019

A Trip to the Dahlia Farm...

By Amy Lentz, Weld County CSU Extension  - Horticulture

It's that time of year when many of our garden's flowers start to putter out or look kind of drab. But the end of the summer is when the dahlias shine! Two weeks ago, a small group of CSU Extension folks took a tour of Arrowhead Dahlias, a family owned and operated dahlia farm located in Platteville, a small town in Weld County. It was a beautiful morning with good weather and lots of ooh's and aah's as we meandered through the many hoop houses filled with dahlias of all colors and sizes.

Arrowhead Dahlia farm in Platteville, CO

Arrowhead Dahlias was established in 2000 by Calvin and Julie Cook and specializes in growing a wide range of dahlias, along with a smaller crop of other popular cut flowers like lisianthus, zinnias and sunflowers. But their main attraction...the dahlias!

Some of the many, long hoop houses filled with dahlias!

Another popular cut flower grown - Lisianthus

The three-acre farm is filled to the brim with over 200 different dahlia cultivars, many in full bloom for us to admire while we toured the long hoop houses. The structures were covered with a light shade-type covering used to protect the flowers from hail storms that can be common in the area. They have approximately 12,000 plants in the ground and harvest often to keep the product at peak freshness to send to market. Here are a few of my favorites seen on the tour:

Cornel Bronze
Karma Chocolate
A view from inside the hoop houses

Dahlias find a very favorable climate in Colorado that allows them to grow large, showy flowers. However, they must be grown like an annual since they are not hardy here. They grow as tubers and can be planted much like tulips, but the seasons are switched. With dahlias, you would dig them up in the fall and plant the tubers in the late spring after any chance of frost has past. They don't need a lot of extra care right after planting, just wait until they sprout above the soil then start them on regular irrigation. A drip line set with an automatic watering system or timer can help to keep the dahlias watered on a regular basis as they don't like to dry out. Dahlias prefer a sunny location with plenty of room to grow. You can also grow them in containers, but make sure to give them a larger pot and staking so they don't flop or blow over - they can get quite large and tall, depending on the cultivar. For more information on planting dahlias in Colorado, check out the Plantalk article from CSU, HERE.

Calvin cutting a dahlia at the ideal stage to send to market

There are over 15,000 florists in the US, and about 70% of the retail flowers sold in the US are imported from Colombia. Other big players on the cut flower scene are the Netherlands and Ecuador. Although the US doesn't even make it into the top 10 for countries with the most exports of cut flowers, the local Colorado-grown cut flower scene is vibrant and growers like Arrowhead Dahlias offer a local product that doesn't have to board an airplane or cargo ship to make it into your bouquet. Check with your local farmers market to find cut flower growers near you!

To learn more about dahlias and other spring-planted bulbs, corms and roots, check out CSU's fact sheet, HERE.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Prairie Ecosystems: There is More Than Meets the Eye

Posted by: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

This past week, I co-taught my first Native Plant Master course at the Plains Conservation Center. We completed the first of three sessions. It was a wonderful experience learning and teaching in such a beautiful setting.

When I was in the third grade, I went on a Girl Scout field trip to the Plains Conservation Center. I remember the day vividly. Upon arriving there were no trees in sight, just dry, brown grassy fields. Then we started to explore. We saw lady bugs and lady bug eggs, raptors, butterflies, pronghorn, flowers, the tipi camp, homestead village, and the wildlife displays in the visitor center. The message I took home that day: there is more to the Plains Conservation Center than meets the eye! There is an ecosystem full of life and diversity on the prairie. I have always had an appreciation for prairie ecosystems after that field trip.

Fast forward many years: I returned to the PCC to learn and share my knowledge and appreciation of prairie ecosystems by co-teaching the Native Plant Master course. The PCC did not disappoint! Here are a few highlights:

A bee fly, Bombyliidae family on a sunflower, Helianthus annuus. Photo: Lisa Mason
Blue grama, Bouteloua gracilis, the state grass of Colorado. Photo: Lisa Mason
Milkweed and Specialist Relationships
Showy milkweed (Asclepias speciosa) is a common native plant found at the PCC. Milkweed tends to be a popular plant for pollinators because of the available nectar, but milkweed also hosts two specialist insects. A specialist insect depends on a certain environment or food source compared to a generalist that can survive in a more variable environment with diverse food sources. Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) are specialists of milkweed because the caterpillars rely solely on milkweed for their diet. Milkweed contains toxins that are poisonous to predators such as birds but not poisonous to the monarch thus protecting the caterpillars and butterflies from predators.

Milkweed longhorn beetles (Tetraopes spp.) also have a specialist relationship with milkweed plants. The beetles spend their entire lives on milkweed plants. Many species will lay their eggs at the root crown. The larvae develop on the roots, some living in the soil feeding on small, young roots and others tunneling in the large taproot of the milkweed. They pupate in the soil and the adults spend most of their time above ground feeding and mating on the plant. (Source: CSU Extension)

Milkweed longhorn beetle, Tetraopes femoratus. Photo: Lisa Mason
Rabbitbrush and Generalist Visitors
Rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) is also a common native plant at PCC and blooms late in the season. This plant is a fantastic food source for a variety of generalist insects including bees, wasps, flies, and beetles. I encourage you to observe rabbitbrush this time of year and notice the diversity of insects buzzing and crawling around the plant. Rabbitbrush can also be an important forage source for other animals, including pronghorn, commonly seen at the PCC.
Soldier beetle, Chauliognathus pennsylvanicus on rabbitbrush. Photo: Lisa Mason
Swainson’s Hawks and Other Raptors
Birds of prey or raptors are defined by their sharp talons they use to hunt and kill prey. Common raptors seen at PCC include Swainson’s hawks, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, burrowing owls, eagles, turkey vultures, American kestrels and more. We were lucky to see a pair of great horned owls, a red-tailed hawk, a Swainson’s hawk and a bald eagle nest. With the season changing to autumn, the Swainson’s hawks are starting to gather into groups, or kettles on the Eastern Plains. They are eating as much as possible right now so they can migrate to Argentina for the winter.  They migrate north in the spring and many spend their summers in Colorado.

Swainson's hawk, Buteo swainsoni. Photo: Steven Mlodinow, Macaulay Library, Cornell Lab of Ornithology 
Many people see pronghorns (Antilocapra americana) on the prairie and don’t think too much about it, but pronghorns are fascinating animals!  First, they are the fastest land mammal in North America and second fastest in the world! They can run at up to sustained speeds of 60 mph. They have incredible vision and a keen sense of smell. Their vision is comparable to a human looking through 8x-power binoculars.

You might associate pronghorn with deer or even mountain goats, but they aren’t related to either. They are in a family of their own called Antilocpridae and are the only living species in the family. The closest living relatives of pronghorn are actually giraffes. (Source: University of Wyoming Extension and University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point)

Pronghorn, Antilocapra americana. Photo: Lisa Mason
Visit the Prairie
Next time you are at the PCC or any other prairie ecosystem, I encourage you to look closer and observe many of the fascinating plants and animal relationships and adaptations. There is more than meets the eye.
A view at the Plains Conservation Center. Notice the colors and textures. How many different types of plants do you see? Photo: Lisa Mason
The PCC is managed by the City of Aurora and the Denver Botanic Gardens. Click here for more information on visiting the PCC.

If you are interested in taking classes through the Native Plant Master program, click here.