CO-Horts Blog

Monday, January 18, 2021

New Year, New Garden

 Posted by: Charleen Barr, Master Gardener in Larimer County

A new year in the garden promises and delivers a fresh start, a chance to fix all errors I have made in the garden and improve or transform those spaces that need extra attention. Now is the time of the year when I have plenty of days to think about what changes to make. The failures of last year have faded and it is time to gather ideas, and make some garden resolutions.

[courtesy of Creative Fabrica]

Continuing education is high on my priority of resolutions for 2021. I am excited to learn through our Extension Continuing Education classes. Although Zoom is not my favorite way to learn, I appreciate the expertise, preparation and I pay attention to the ideas presented. If you haven't looked, there are dozens of recorded classes posted on this blog--the page also includes those coming up. In 2021, I am hopeful that we may be able to enjoy the sharing of ideas and resources of our fellow Master Gardeners with the public.

Simplifying garden tasks as I get older requires some planning. I want to keep flower and vegetable gardens small, so they are easier to manage. A smaller garden helps with weed control.

I will not buy plants without a plan. I have dozens of seed packets that looked enticing in the catalog or store, but never got planted – not enough time or space! I also have had pretty plants that die in their pots without being transplanted.

Everyone loves the bright, showy cultivars of butterfly bush, petunias and daylilies, but these introduced species can be high maintenance. This year, I resolve to plant additional native species for a more sustainable garden that is easy to maintain. Native plants are adapted to our local climate, weather, and pests. They can handle periods of drought and sudden freezes, and require little, if any, fertilizer to thrive. Native plants also help sustain the backyard pollinators that return to my yard year-after-year.

Rocky Mountain penstemon (Penstemon strictus), one of many native plants that do well in Colorado gardens. Photo courtesy of

Garden resolutions require determination or they will not happen. Plus, sometimes we need someone to help make gardening ideas come true, like a partner in crime so to speak. This is when I enjoy using my grandchildren. They are totally stimulated by earth worms, crawling insects, and up close and personal inspections of plants. Gardening should not be all work. The more time we spend enjoying and sharing our gardens the more rewarding they will be.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Garden gazing ball predicts busy 2021

 By Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

Sow Seeds

  As a little girl, I thought the ornaments in my grandparents’ garden were old-fashioned to the point of being fogey. The ceramic squirrel perched majestically on the lamppost, the horsehead gripping a never-used tying ring in its teeth, or the green gazing ball nestled in the roses didn’t inspire my preteen mind to anything other than an eyeroll.

Now that I’m older I have more appreciation for garden tchotchke, although not to the point of immortalizing a squirrel in statue. The disembodied horse’s head isn’t fully appreciated out here in the West, either. But the gazing ball has made a comeback, and I admit, I can see why.

Gardeners always want to peek into the future to see if their flowers will bloom, vegetables thrive, or  rain is on the way. We check almanacs, weather reports, fuzz on caterpillar’s backs, and moon charts to get an edge on Mother Nature.  We have many reasons for wanting to know how 2021 will shape up, especially in the garden.

To sleuth it out, I talked with a person wise in the ways of gardeners, one who runs a business on gauging trends and what new seasons will hold. And while Curtis Jones can’t tell us if we’ll have a wet season or drought, the co-owner of Botanical Interests Seed Company has some solid advice for 2021.

“This past season, 2020, was an unbelievable year; the U.S. had 19 million new vegetable gardeners. People are thinking about where their food comes from and self-sufficiency,” said Jones, who shares ownership of the seed company with Judy Seaborn. Across the country, seeds packets sold out rapidly and many seed companies ran out of their stock.  “We were the only seed company to ship throughout the year, because we time shipments for seed throughout the season.”

Michael Lowe, General Manager for Lake Valley Seed, agreed, saying that they have a high demand for seed in 2021. Their company is busy supplying retailers plenty of stock to meet gardeners' needs. Experts tracking garden trends are all predicting strong interest in 2021, although a few claim that this is a fleeting interest brought on by the pandemic.

Asked if the interest in gardening was a flash in the pan, as some prognosticators predict, Jones didn’t think so.“A lot of people that started gardening find that they really enjoy it.  A lot of younger people tried it and many are already into houseplants. People are psyched up for it; fall seed sales were very impressive. People were buying for spring.” Flowers as well as vegetable seed sales were strong, not surprisingly.  People staying closer to home wanted to surround themselves with beauty.

Emerging carrot

So what does next year have in store for us?  Jones says gardening in 2021 will be just as strong as it was this year, so plan your garden now. “If we can get the seed in, we’ll increase the amount we’re offering,” Jones said, commenting on source and supply during the pandemic. He doesn’t expect a seed shortage, but to get the varieties you want, buy them now.

“If we can get the seed in, we’ll increase the amount we’re offering,” Jones said, commenting on source and supply during the pandemic. He doesn’t expect a seed shortage, but to get the varieties you want, buy them now. "Even though last year taxed our inventory, we are in good shape for the upcoming season, but if I didn't own a seed company and I was planning my garden, I would get my seed sooner than later."

Those of us who have been around the vegetable patch a time or two should dive into catalogs to find coveted new introductions; the key to success is planning and preparation, so get shopping gardeners.

  • Trade or brand names mentioned are used only for the purpose of information; CSU Extension does not guarantee nor warrant the standard of the product, nor does it imply approval of the product to the exclusion of others which also may be available, nor does it intend discrimination or criticism of products or providers that are mentioned or not mentioned.

Monday, January 11, 2021

The Winter Blues...and Greens and Yellows and.....

By Donnetta Wilhelm, Colorado Master Gardener, Arapahoe County

Psychology Today reports that moods are affected by what is absorbed through the five senses. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell are processed both neurobiologically and emotionally. Those who are prone to the winter blue moods or the more serious seasonal affective disorder (SAD), take heart. During the winter months, Colorado is a wonderful place to get outside. Take a daily ‘light break’ to visit the landscape and elevate your mood by pleasing the five senses to help chase away those winter blues. 


Arctic Sun Dogwood
photo credit: pridescorner
Winter doesn’t have to be bland. Admire the colors and shapes that stand out. Arctic Sun Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera 'Cato') has stunning red, orange, and yellow branching while Harry Lauder’s Walking Stick (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') with twisted growth habit is a beautiful sight in the winter landscape. Peking Lilac (Syringa pekinensis) shows off exfoliated reddish-brown bark, and don’t forget the weeping evergreens that accent the landscape with graceful beauty.


Crimson Spire Oak
photo credit: midpark

At first listen, the sounds of winter seem boring. But step outside and hear the welcome sound of crunching snow underfoot.  Listen closely to the rustling plumes of ornamental grasses.  Breezes whisper through the foliage of marcescent tress like oak, beech and hornbeam.  Crimson Spire Oak (Quercus robur x Q. alba 'Crimschmidt') retains it leaves until spring.  Sounds can also be heard coming from evergreen and deciduous shrubs where birds flutter about in search of berries and seeds. 


Mountain mahogany seeds
photo credit: plants of the southwest
Feel the crunch of dried seed heads on perennials, the softness of fleshy succulent leaves, or the rough scales of pinecones. Touch a variety of tree and shrub bark textures like the warty bark on Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), the shredding bark on Beautybush (Kolkwitzia amabilis), and the flaky bark of Smoketree (Cotinus coggygria). Who can resist the feel of the soft needles of evergreens like Southwestern White Pine (Pinus strobiformis), White Fir (Abies concolor) or Yews (Taxus)? Caress the odd-shaped, fuzzy seeds that cover the winter stems of Mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus).


What does winter taste like? Canning or freezing delicious produce such as tomatoes, carrots, corn, peppers, and pickles can become favorite winter flavors. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips that are removed from the ground in late fall will remain fresh with proper storage; think root vegetable risotto on a cold winter evening. Garlic stored from the July harvest and herbs grown indoors provide mouthwatering flavor. Many recipes transform edible parts of landscape plants into a myriad of teas and soups. Preparing salsas, sauces, and relishes from vegetables, and butters, jams, jellies, and marmalades from fruits can result in a delicious taste of winter.


Cook's Peak Arizona Cypress
photo credit: csucohort blogspot

Science has proven that noses are not as sensitive to smells in the winter as odor molecules move slower in colder weather. Besides winter’s chimney smoke, there are wonderful scents in the landscape. Evergreens such as firs (Abies), pines (Pinus), cedars (Cedras), junipers (Juniperus) and cypress (such as Cupressus arizonica 'Cooke Peak') release an aroma when the foliage is touched. Persistent berries on many shrubs or crabapple trees are fragrant, so gently remove berries from the branches and enjoy the fruity scents. Mojave sage (Salvia mohavensis) and Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa) are not only ornamental in the winter, but still maintain that strong scent enjoyed during the growing season. Perennial herbs with outdoor hardiness (lavender, creeping thyme, oregano) are also sure to stimulate the sense of smell.

Find plants in the landscape that delight the five senses that can improve the winter blues. If it is difficult to find something, make a plan to plant something next spring that will provide a mood boost next winter.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Your 2021 Pollinator Revolution!


Posted by: John Murgel, Douglas County Extension

Whether your pollinator patch is well established or only a January daydream, here are four ways to take your yard or garden to the next level for pollinators this year.

 1. Ditch your weed fabric.

        Perhaps you have all the plants you want.  Maybe you’re looking for an easy “big impact” to help pollinators.  Here’s one that’s friendly on garden budgets too: stop using weed fabric.  The majority of native bees nest underground, and many species of moth pupate underground. Bees and caterpillars can find a way through plants, gravel, and wood mulch (as long as it’s not too deep) but they’ll never get through a woven layer of plastic fibers.  Considering that weed barrier fabrics are at best minimally successful controlling weeds in the long-term, why bother!?

Native Bee Burrows in Gravel Mulch
Bee burrows can be hard to see!

 2. Grow Your Own.

Growing many garden perennials from seed can be easy and economical and expands the kinds of plants you can include in your garden.  Consider pollinators you’ve seen, pollinators you’d like to see, and your growing conditions.  Are you installing or enhancing a xeriscape?  A cutting garden?  Think about the time of day and times of year you are most likely to be in the garden (if you want to watch your pollinator friends at work) and choose plants that will be blooming at those times.  Consider when you might have gaps in bloom and look for plants to fill those gaps.  Some seeds may require treatments of cold or “scarifying” (roughing up the seed) before they’ll sprout, others will come up right away.  You can plant them straight into the garden or start them in pots—inside or outside—depending on the variety and your preference. Planting a few perennial seeds is a great way to get some gardening done on a sunny winter day!

3. Rethink caterpillar host-plants and bug hotels.

            You might have read about host plants for caterpillars as a key component of a successful pollinator garden along with the nectar- and pollen-producing blossoms for bees and adult butterflies and moths.  Host plants are important and come along with a caveat:  know your predator situation.  Caterpillars in urban and suburban parts of Colorado are particularly vulnerable to being eaten by European Paper Wasps, a non-native social wasp that thrives in human-made habitats.  They build their nests under eaves, in hollow pipes, under stacked lumber or garbage can lids—anywhere a ledge that can shelter them from the weather.  Keep a watchful eye for them and deal with the nests to help caterpillars reach maturity.  Encourage your neighbors to control European Paper Wasps as well.  Otherwise planting host plants might as well be setting up a wasp buffet!

Speaking of amenities and accommodations, what about bee and butterfly “hotels”?  Those designed for mason and leaf-cutter bees may be worthwhile.  But steer well clear of butterfly houses.  These are typically a closed box with tall, narrow entrances and are supposedly designed to provide butterflies a dry, sheltered place to spend the night. Unlike bee hotels, which provide cavities similar to what certain bees would seek out in nature, butterfly hotels do not mimic any natural shelter butterflies would use (and they can’t read the adorable signs!).  And recent research has shown that butterflies indeed don’t actually use them.    What sort of thing would use a dry cavity with a narrow entrance?  European paper wasps! So butterfly houses/hotels provide a ready shelter for the number one killer of backyard butterflies.  Plant some flowers instead!


Penstemon palmeri and a bumblebee
Penstemon palmeri (pink) and Echium russicum (red) grow well together

4.  Consider pre-made seed mixes carefully.

        As our awareness of the importance of supporting invertebrate life, especially pollinators, grows, seed mixes marketed especially for boosting and supporting pollinators are more and more common.  And what could be easier?  A sprinkle of seeds, pre-mixed for beauty, onto prepared soil, water a couple of times, and voila!  Your new pollinator garden is finished!  Well…a guy or gal can dream.  Let the buyer beware!  Seed mixes can be a good option for establishing a new garden, particularly if you’re not sure what might grow well in your garden or aren’t choosy about appearances.  But many mixes contain plants that aren’t particularly well suited to life together.  In order to get at least something to grow, many mixes include plants that grow in habitats ranging from wetlands to deserts.  Unless your garden contains both wetlands and deserts in close proximity, you’re not likely to observe all of the species in the mix growing in your plot.  A small percentage will be able to survive in the conditions of your particular site, the rest of the seeds are essentially wasted.  Many species in mixes are also annuals or short-lived perennials that will require regular replacement or re-sowing.  If you’ve got a good idea of the soil conditions and how you will water your garden, you might decide to choose your own species and make your own mix.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Outdoor Dining: Greenhouse Style

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

There's no question that local restaurants are getting creative to allow more people to dine indoors and out. While walking around Old Town Fort Collins, I saw miniature greenhouses outside Rare, a local eatery.

Using miniature greenhouses to provide a socially-distanced dining space. Each greenhouse has a table large enough for four people to eat and be comfortable in winter. 

I sent the photo to my brother, who works for a large wholesale nursery in Oregon and his response was, "That's great! And it's no wonder we can't find any greenhouse supplies!"

So is this yet another positive for the Green Industry? Will this help "grow" more gardeners? Or will we see a glut of gently used greenhouses on Craig's List in a few months?

I bet it's toasty warm inside those greenhouses, especially when the sun is out. I also suspect they are heated in the evening.

Regardless of what happens, I have to hand it to our ingenious restaurant owners who are truly modifying their practices to keep their doors open. I'd personally love to dine in a greenhouse. Even better if it smells like warmed soil and vegetation. Happy New Year!