CO-Horts Blog

Monday, April 12, 2021

Protecting your plants from wild weather this spring

Posted by: John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension
Spring weather in Colorado can be temperamental, it can sometimes feel like we experience all of the seasons in a single day. This past weekend, if your garden was located around the Front Range, it likely experienced warm springtime weather ripe for growing; but later this week, forecasts predict cooler temperatures and even a possibility for snow! These erratic fluctuations provide challenges for our gardens, but CSU Extension has put together some techniques which can help gardeners to extend the growing season and to protect plants against some these drastic weather patterns.
In this post, I have highlighted some techniques and provided references with more information for managing your garden with our spring weather in mind.
Seedlings purchased from a garden nursery may need to be hardened off before they are planted in your garden [click here for more information on this topic]. 

One of the most important factors to consider in vegetable gardening is when to plant your garden, and the length of your garden’s growing season. If planted too early, some vegetables can encounter challenges with frosts which can kill tender plants; but if planted too late, crops may not mature by the time fall comes around. By planting the right plants at the right time you can help to cultivate a successful crop.
Planting Guides can help you decide
when to plant certain things.

Cool, hardy season crops can often tolerate minor frosts and thrive in cooler weather conditions which dip as low at 40°F, some examples are broccoli, spinach, and onions. Warm season crop are much more sensitive to frost and should not be planted until all danger of frost has past. These plants do better in temperatures ranging from 70°F - 95°F, some examples are tomatoes, peppers, and watermelon. A longer list for these plants, and more details on this topic can be found in the following link to CSU Extension's vegetable planting Guide:
There are a range of techniques which can be used to extend our growing season. These include things such as planting gardens on south-facing slopes, providing windbreaks, mulching, and even covering plants when frosts are suspected. Sheets and blankets can be used to trap heat from the soil around young vegetables at night; these covering should be placed low to the ground and secured. In the morning after using sheets, if this fabric has become damp it should be dried before being used for this purpose again.

Simple hoops over a garden can provide great
fastening points for hail cloth and shade cloth.

More techniques and helpful tricks to extend the growing season can be found in the following link to a factsheet on this topic:

Frosts and cold snaps are one challenge, but hail can be one of the greatest risks to our gardens.  Hoop houses or high tunnels can both extend the growing season and offer protection from hail. Hoops can also provide structures to which tightly woven ‘hail cloth’ can be fastened for added protection; hail cloth can also be placed over tomato cages or other structures available in your garden.

Walls of water and gallon milk cartons (with the bottoms cut off) can be used to protect new seedlings. If you leave the cap off of these cartons, they can even be left over seedlings until the plant outgrows this structure. Your imagination is the limit! Before a hailstorm, cardboard boxes, plastic buckets, and even sheets can help prevent some of the most extreme damage from occurring; however, you should never risk personal safety to protect your garden and should only implement these methods if you are able to get out far enough ahead of a storm for it to be safe.

A seven minute video on Hail Mitigation and cleanup can be found in the following link to more information provided by CSU Extension staff:

A factsheet on this topic can be found on the following link:

Sometimes it isn't possible to protect our gardens from a rapidly developing hailstorm. If you don’t find yourself with enough notice that a potential storm is coming or perhaps find yourself away from your garden when this weather occurs, you should know that our plants can recover! They want to grow.  To include a direct quote from our Plant Talk page on this topic:

For perennials with foliage intact but stripped, remove flower stalks and cut them back leaving as many intact leaves as possible. Lightly cultivate the soil, and apply a light dressing of low-nitrogen fertilizer.­  

Flowering annuals with no remaining foliage probably won’t recover after a hailstorm. Petunias usually survive if there is at least some foliage still on the plant. Clean the plants of ruined foliage and apply a light application of fertilizer to help them recover.  

Early vegetable root crops with no remaining foliage will not recover. They need the green leafy foliage to produce energy for the roots to grow. Leafy vegetable crops may recover; replant if you see no signs of new growth after a week or so.


The reality is that Colorado's climate and weather patterns are challenging for gardens. But, CSU Extension is here with specialized knowledge to help you grow successful gardens of abundance. To get started, check out the following two links to the Colorado Vegetable Guide: 

en Español

and In English

For a wealth of information on gardening, I would also highly encourage you to check out our 'Growing' resources at 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Consider Grow and Give this Year!

Alright, everyone, I have a gardening confession to make. I’m over vegetables. Well, maybe not over them. But at least tired of growing them. The watering, the fertilizing, the hailstorm perfectly timed for ruination. Fighting verminous squirrels and hungry insects…and the watering! Yes, it’s true that like so many others, I got my start gardening with vegetables. I still grow them, but my heart is with my prized xeric posies, eagerly ordered, collected, and gathered with great effort and expense, and propagated with nail-biting and sometimes limited success. 

 Tomatoes difficult? As if.
Penstemon, Dianthus, and other rock garden plants
Things I'd rather be growing...

And yet, my vegetable garden persists, if unenthusiastically. One possible reason is the feeling of self-sufficiency and satisfaction one has when eating vegetables produced steps from the back door. Add food preservation into the mix and one could almost pretend not to need “the grid” at all. Certainly, bare grocery store shelves at this time last year led to many people stepping up or starting up vegetable gardening efforts. CSU Extension was among organizations who did the same—launching Grow and Give, the Modern Victory Garden Project, about a year ago, in order to help fight food insecurity during the pandemic. 

 In the combination of inspiration and boredom familiar to many of us at this point in history, I decided to register my garden with Grow and Give and dug my shovel into the vegetable patch with new verve. I am very glad I did. My vegetable harvest and subsequent donations were modest. My harvest in charity, community, and purpose was more than I imagined. Most food pantries in my area weren’t taking fresh produce, so I donated mostly to neighbors. Our conversations about the neighborhood, cooking, weather, and of course, vegetables, were cherished moments of sanity and connection. My few visits to the food pantry were appreciated and fulfilling.
A large squash surrounding a kitchen knife.
Tromba squash--these are fun to donate!

Grow and Give continues this year with new resources and a streamlined online presence. I am redoubling my efforts—filling seed trays with starts of varieties with high production and good storage potential, perfect for donations. Perhaps you, like me, left the vegetable garden behind for other gardening challenges at some point. I encourage you to revisit the veggie garden for bounty beyond merely the food you produce.

 Learn More and Register your garden at

Monday, April 5, 2021

Time to clean the coop!

 Posted by: Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension

'The Girls' are so happy the snow has gone;
and they love the holiday tree in there for 'fun,'
per suggestion of Alison O'Connor's
January Co-Horts post.

In Northwest Colorado, winter is long. Even with a mild winter like we've just had, one can count on snow covering the ground for at least four months. You dig out where you absolutely have to, but for the most part, the landscape just stays covered in piles of that legendary Champagne Powder.

That snow has advantages other than providing a surface to ski and snowshoe on and creating storage for water we’ll use this summer; my grandpa always used to say, “That snow covers a lot of work!” But now that the snow has receded, work is being uncovered, and this weekend the Hagenbuch kids got after it.

The first task we handle once a wheelbarrow can navigate the backyard is to clean the chicken coop. We use the ‘deep litter method’ in our coop, which means over the winter we add fresh shavings every week or so to keep things clean. Over four of five months of doing this, we end up with a foot or more of dense litter on the floor of the coop. Not only does this help us mange the manure we couldn’t otherwise deal with, it also helps provide a nice layer of insulation to the floor of the coop.

Look at that beautiful litter!

Having all of this litter is a real gift for the garden, given its level of organic material. Others who agree call me and ask if they can just incorporate litter into their garden, and I’m quick to answer, “NO, it must be composted first.” This isn’t because it’s too ‘hot’ for your garden, but instead because it could be introducing bacteria and other unwanted problems into your garden…and potentially onto the veggies you’ll be eating this season. No one wants their lettuce to cause anyone to get sick.

Composting or aging chicken litter can be a way to help reduce the chances of spreading bacteria or disease. The litter also helps create good microbial action in the compost pile, which might otherwise not break down as well without the shot of nitrogen it provides. While it’s challenging to get our compost as hot as I’d like due to our short summers, cool nights, and long winters, a three-year process helps ensure that things are broken down well enough to be relatively safe.

The green arrow shows last year's
compost in bin #2; the red arrow
is what the kids put in this weekend.

We have a three-bin compost system, and compost is ‘rotated’ in the fall, right before snow-up. Current year yard waste, veggie waste from the kitchen, and the chicken litter get layered in the first bin; the second bin has the waste from last year that was rotated into it last fall; and the last bin has items from two years ago, breaking down more this summer before it is put into the garden this fall.

Warmer areas of the state can do this process more quickly, but in the mountains of NW Colorado, I find the ‘go slow’ approach gives me a much better (and safer) product. I occasionally incorporate some additional nitrogen into the process in the summer, adding commercially-produced fertilizer made with Dehydrated Poultry Waste. I will also soak the bins with water a few times each summer to help break down the materials, especially if we are experiencing a dry summer.

If you have a coop and are looking for a way to use the litter, take the time necessary to make sure it’s safer for your garden. CSU Extension has good resources on composting, including Fact Sheet #7.212, Composting Yard Waste. Also, if you’re in doubt about the safety of the compost, use it in your flower gardens and forego the potential issues of using it for food-producing gardens. Either way, take advantage of this resource for your yard if you have it.

Oh, and let me know if you enjoyed this blog post, too; that way, I can tell my kids their work this weekend wasn’t just to torture them, but instead an effort that inspired gardeners across Colorado.😉

Looking good! These clean shavings will
be ready to put into the compost bin within
the next month or two.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Weather can be our Friend or Foe.


Color to come, hopefully.
Last October, Colorado saw some crazy weather with cold weather come in after really warm weather.  Several days in early October were in the 80’s.  First there was a big wind event.  Then temperatures hitting below normal around Oct 13th, hitting just above freezing, followed by temperatures as cold as 11 degrees F and ended toward the end of the month with a big snow storm.  Of course the moisture was needed and appreciated, but rain would have been better.  Yearly average temperatures in mid to late October in the Grand Junction area are 67 / 41 Degrees F.

Plum Tree, pre-pruning, L. Masters
Plants, like people, do not like quick change.  Many perennial plants like trees had not had the chance to appropriately harden off, or acclimate, so they were ready for winter.  There are still trees that still have their leaves and not the normal ones like Oak trees.  This is because the trees did not have time to form the hormone that creates the abscission layer, causing leaves to drop in fall.  I predict we will see samples of tree damage from the cold for months to come.

Our fruit tree growers and the CSU Western CO Research Center in Orchard Mesa was tracking how the fruit trees were acclimating, or in this cause the lack of acclimating.  Here is what David Sterle reported in early December from the Western CO Research Center: “We are seeing between 10 and 40% dead (peach) buds after the freeze depending on variety. The bigger worry is probably the shoot tissue, and an important thing about the shoots is that from the middle of the shoot to the base there is a lot less damage. The damage in the tip 1/3 of the shoot is about 3 times as common as on the base. So from that point on I will only be looking at buds from the basal half of the shoot, where there are more live buds. We are recommending spraying Captan / Topsin / lime sulfur if possible to prevent cytospora from getting into the damage shoot tissue.  The good news is this varied by location and peach variety and some trees did go on to acclimate as winter went on.  And of course last year we saw a late frost that impacted the number of peaches that were available.  So I predict peaches will be at a premium again this year.

Checking for life, WCRC

Many of the growers have seen twig death.  No studies have been done on the combination of the cold combined with the drought, but certainly the drought has not been helpful.  Many of the peach growers worked to prune out the dead.  Typically over 50 % of the tree is pruned to stimulate new growth for next year, so it just took some modifying to do more tip pruning to remove the obvious dead.  Pending not having any damaging spring frosts, we should still have a peach crop.  But the wine growers have not fared as well.  Many wine growers have moved to grafted Vitis vinifera varieties of grapes, native to the Mediterranean area, that are hardy against phylloxera, which is basically a root eating aphid that slowly kills the vines.  However, these grafted grape varieties are not as hard.  It is expected up to 100% of these winery hybrid grapes are gone.  And sweet cherries are a very similar story.  Several of the local sweet cherry growers had just recovered from drought damage on their fruit trees.  Drought stress can affect trees for several years.  Areas in Delta County have irrigation that is very dependent on natural precipitation levels.  Recent drought years they have seen no irrigation in late summer or fall.

drought and insect damage, S. Carter

In doing multiple orchard visits, many of the orchards have decided to wait on pruning the grapes and cherries to see if they sprout.  CSU Research specialist Horst Caspari did a session for grape growers on how to prune and what to look for the cold damage.  Many will be depending on the vines sprouting from the lower portion of the vine, or may be replanting and starting over.  Last summer the grape growers in the area had to deal with possible smoke taint from the local wildfires.  Combine that with a decrease in visits to tasting rooms, and it has been a very bad wine year.

So, appreciate your local fruit and wine producers as it has been a tough year for them beyond what the rest of us have experienced.  Colorado climate can be a challenge to grow plants in, but when we are successful nothing tastes better.

By Susan Carter, Extension Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent, Tri River Area

Monday, March 22, 2021

Tips for a New Garden

By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin, CSU Extension

Certainly, success is a harvest of delicious, nutritious, useful and beautiful fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers that we grew ourselves!  However, in more than 30 years of gardening, I’ve learned the most from my failures.  My ‘failures’ always teach me something that helps me become a better gardener.

The main goal is a harvest 

The tips I share in this blog post are my own.   Other experienced gardeners will likely have a slightly different list of things they think are most important. 

First, learn by researching.  Colorado State University Extension has quite a lot of up-to-date research-based information to help you.  Check out our Grow Resources on the Grow and Give website, our Fact Sheet publications on the CSU Extension website, our Colorado Master Gardener Notes and our Plant Talk articles.  When you do an internet search, type in your search terms followed by and you should find information you can trust.  (I am sure you know everything you find on the internet may not be reliable.)  You can also find good information in most seed catalogs, seed packets and some books.  You can call your local CSU Extension office and they will give you even more local resources.  And you can talk with a successful gardener where you live and/or join a community garden. 

Then, learn by doing. This is where the fun is.  The first year I was at university studying to be a Horticulturist, I took Horticulture 101, which was like a ‘basics of gardening’ class.  That summer, I started a garden using my notes from that class as my garden ‘bible’.  It was an adventure to experiment with what I had learned in class. 

I try something new every year- last year it was to grow a radish seed crop.

Following are a few things you will need to research.  (You may even need to research some of the terms I use in this article.) 

Learn about your climate.  Find out your average last spring frost date and your first fall frost date.  This is your average frost-free growing season.   Find out your minimum winter temperatures and your maximum summer temperatures. Understanding your climate will help you make educated choices about which plants may be best suited for your garden and when to plant them.  For example, if you live in a location with a short season and relatively cool summer temperatures, cool season annual plants and hardy perennial plants will do better in your garden.  If you live in a lower elevation with long, hot summers you will do best with warm season annual plants and more heat tolerant perennial plants.  You can find information about your local climate in Colorado Master Gardener notes and on Colorado Climate Summaries website. 

Learn about your soil.  Get a soil test done.  If you include information about what you want to grow with your soil test submission, your results will come with recommendations about nutrients and amendments you may need to add (or not add) specific to your plantings.

Compost is a good amendment- add 1" to soil a year

Observe your microclimate.  Things like sun exposure, slope, wind, buildings, trees, etc. will inform you even more about what you can grow.  This will help you choose the best locations for your garden beds and where you may need to add wind breaks or covers to your beds.

My raised bed garden at 8,400'
takes advantage of a south facing slope (microclimate)
and season-extension covers.

What source and how much water is available to you?  If you have a well, you will need to have your well water tested.  You may need to choose more drought tolerant plants and/or supplement your household water with rainwater or raw water if it is available in your community.  You may even need to haul water. 

Decide if you want to grow in the ground and/or in raised beds.  If you have rocky or clayey soils or do not want to do a lot of bending, raised beds are a great option.  Ask your local extension office about  options to obtain soil to fill your beds. 

Once you have done your research, get started! 

Start small by growing something like
cut-and-come-again lettuce in a container garden.
(In this photo lettuce seed is covered by fabric until it germinates. 
The flat is tomatoes that are hardening off before planting out.)

Do not try to grow all the food your family needs the first year.  To do so will require a lot of time, hard labor, space, and resources.  I personally have not heard of many people, even popular YouTube homesteaders, who are able to grow all their food. However, you may be able to grow enough of your own leafy greens, green beans, squash, potatoes, or berries for a year or two -- just maybe not all at the same time.  These crops are all relatively easy and can produce quite a bit in limited space.  And they can all be preserved in some way so you can enjoy them through the winter. 

Perpetual spinach is a chard with tender green leaves and narrow stems. 
 It produces well and is slow to bolt in the heat of summer.

BUT just because you can grow it does not mean you should.  If you don’t enjoy eating something, why grow that crop?  Or if your climate is not suited to grow something, do you really want to give the extra space, time, effort and expense to try to grow it? 

Is it worth the extra effort to grow these tomatoes
in a short season with cool nights?

Timing is critical.  There is a short window for when you should start seeds indoors and when you should plant outside. I have failed to get a good harvest more because of poor timing than anything else.  Learn from failure. There is always next year to try again.

It took me about 5 tries to grow onions that sized up before going to seed. 
The secret for me was finding a good long-day variety and starting them early inside.  

Don’t forget to have fun and to enjoy the ‘fruits of your labors’.  It is rewarding to grow your own food and beautiful flowers and to share with your family and community.  You may even become one of those people who posts pictures of their homegrown meals on social media! 

Friday, March 19, 2021

New Grass seed before a storm? Why not?

Cassey Anderson, Adams County Extension 

As many of you who live along the Front Range may know we had a very warm and enjoyable first half of March. This led to the temptation to start getting gardens re-worked and the making of new plans. In my yard that meant working on our 30' x 30' vegetable garden since we're planning to build raised beds. As often happens a side project emerged. Last year we ground out about 50 stumps in our yard (yes, we have/had a LOT of trees!). As a consequence the area in between our garden and our shed became really bumpy and impossible to maintain last year, so while we had the rented super-duty hydraulic rototiller we also went over the patch in between veggie garden and shed and smoothed it out. Alas I did not get a before picture, but believe me it was gnarly! 

The newly evened-out area

Since nature abhors a vacuum I knew that I had to get something up and growing before the inevitable weeds grew in. I purchased a dryland mixture that shouldn't spread quickly through a local grass seed company and went to work. Of course we were working against a timeline as the snowstorm of last week was supposed to be moving in.

A proper stance is vital to good seed distribution 

When spreading grass seed over a new area it's important, if possible, to loosen the soil, if you can do this with something like a rototiller 6-8" deep that's the best possible option, if you're patching a smaller area a rake or a cultivator can work as well. Spread slowly and uniformly and preferably on a day without much wind if you can manage it.

The straw like bits on the ground are all future grass - hopefully

You should see grass seed on the soil surface fairly uniformly distributed. This is the point at which you get to start making sure that grass seed has the best soil-to-seed contact you can manage! This means making sure that the soil is nicely nestled into its future home for germination. Using a rake I find is a very effective way of getting a little bit of soil on top of the seed, enough to secure it into the soil, but not so deep that light and moisture cannot easily reach.  

Raking is a great upper body workout 

Once your seed is tucked in, you'll need to ensure it stays moist. This can be through natural precipitation (one of the main arguments for seeding in the spring) or through your own efforts (sprinklers). If the days become really hot you may have to water several times a day. A newly germinated seedling that dries out will die very quickly indeed! In my case I got almost 2" of moisture mere days after planting and the snow still has not melted so I'll be OK on watering for a while. Now I'm just hoping that we'll dry out soon so I can build my new raised beds, fingers crossed.  

Enjoy my gratuitous slow-motion seed spreading video. 
I spent far too much time trying to capture a good shot. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Viticulture Exploration Opportunities in Colorado

Posted by: Miranda Purcell, CSU Viticulture Extension Specialist 

Temperature is the largest limitation to wine grape production in the state of Colorado. Dr. Horst Caspari, CSU State Viticulturist and Professor, has partnered with Russ Schumacher and Pete Goble of The Colorado Climate Center to identify areas new areas throughout the state that are viable for introduction, or expansion, of viticulture. This study began by exploring temperature patterns in Montezuma and Fremont Counties and recently expanded to assess the entire state. Data are collected from long-term Cooperative Observer Network (COOP) weather stations and the number of years in which one would expect a killing freeze is estimated using the Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes (PRISM) Model. A weather event is considered a killing freeze if it meets the conditions below (two different scenarios based on grapevine species):

For cold hardy hybrid grapes-

  1. Hard spring freeze (28F or lower) after bud break (May 15th)
  2. Fall freeze (32F or lower) prior to harvest (September 30th)
  3. Rapid onset of seasonally-unpredicted cold air in Fall
  4. Deep cold early in winter (< -15 F before January 1st)
  5. Extreme cold mid-late winter (< -25 after January 1st)

For European grapes (Vitis vinifera)-

  1. Hard spring freeze (28F or lower) after bud break (May 15th)
  2. Fall freeze (32F or lower) prior to harvest (September 30th)
  3. Rapid onset of seasonally-unpredicted cold air in Fall
  4. Deep cold early in winter (< -5 F before January 1st)
  5. Extreme cold mid-late winter (< -15 after January 1st)

Low numbers of killing freeze years were observed in areas known for viticulture, such as Palisade and Grand Junction. The Gunnison and Dolores River Valleys and the Four Corners Region were also estimated as having low killing freeze years per decade. These areas would be suitable for European varieties (Figure 1). Southeastern Colorado could potentially be suitable for grape growing, but cold hardy hybrid varieties will have a better survival rate than European varieties due to cold weather conditions (Figure 2).

Figure 1. Estimated killing freeze years/decade for Vitis vinifera grape varieties in Colorado (1981-2017)

Figure 2. Estimated killing freeze years/decade for cold-hardy hybrid grape varieties in Colorado (1981-2017)

In addition to temperature, soil texture and access to irrigation water are also important considerations for aspiring viticulturists. The temperature data was overlaid with these two additional parameters to produce a map of potential viticulture exploration areas in Colorado (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Map of viticulture exploration opportunities in Colorado based on 1) temperature 2) soil texture and 3) access to irrigation water. Blue areas are best suited for cold hardy hybrid varieties and red areas are best suited for European (Vitis vinifera) varieties. 

For more information on this study, please visit the Colorado Climate Center. If you are interested in growing grapes, please feel free to reach out to myself, Miranda Purcell, CSU Viticulture Extension Specialist at There are also a number of resources available at, Dr. Horst Caspari’s website and in the Colorado Grape Growers Guide.