CO-Horts Blog

Monday, April 29, 2013

One Gardeners Search to Become a Gardenista.

        Carrie Shimada, Weld County Extension

Among my Co-Hort bloggers, I’m known as a fashion maven.   Yes, I love to garden and play in the dirt, but I also like fashion.   I will admit I have a closet that’s overflowing with clothes, many pairs of shoes (okay-many, many pairs of shoes), and handbags.   I follow fashion trends and I have been known to rock a pair of 5” in a snow storm, that’s why it pains me, a little, to admit that my typical gardening attire is far from fashionable. 
Just this past weekend, I would have been fined by the fashion police- my paint-splattered shorts, my slightly yellowed tee-shirt, and green gardening clogs were far from fashionable.  So, in fear of being issued a citation for my crimes against fashion, I decided to check out what was in style for the avid “Gardenista”.
My green gardening clogs, while washable and comfortable, they're not very stylish.
What I found out, was just what I expected- gardens on apparel were more common than stylish apparel for gardening.  Spring 2013 is the year of floral printed dressed, leaf printed blazers for men and women, and anything foliage-related on clothing.  In spite of all the fashion inspired by gardening, I kept searching for a website that would lead me to that great fashion find.
And did I find a couple of interesting sites!  (These websites were research, not an endorsement of any product), a site FULL of pink.  Of course their pink lip patterned Wellies caught my eye in an instant, but it was the ‘girlie’-named’ gardening products that kept me clicking through the pages.  Let’s just say the names of the quite fashionable garden products, keep your mind wondering to other adult products ;)  The website does use words like ‘allotment’ and ‘brolly’- mind you it’s a British company that brilliantly took the idea of the ‘plastic-wear party’ and adapted it to ‘Girlie Garden’ products.  Who’s in for adapting this to the United States?
From:, a company dedicated to “the sensation of walking barefoot on grass. Anywhere! Anyime!”  Who knew that searching for garden fashion would get you to a site that produces parts of the garden as fashion.  Kusa took the well-known donut company’s idea of grass lined flip-flops and made it wearable- because wearing a shoe with grass growing in the foot bed is not practical- I guess (that coming from a girl who wears 6” platform heels).

Whenever 2
So, maybe my search got a bit distract by the all the pink lips and faux-grass shoes, but what’s wrong with a little fun! 
When I finally got back on track, I found that no matter how far I searched, woman’s gardening apparel was not that fashion worthy.  Instead I decided to compile a list of fashionable gardening accessories- a Gardenista’s best friend.
A Gardenista’s must have accessories:
1. Gloves- leather gloves are useful when pruning, gripping wheelbarrows full of mulch, and dealing with thorny rosebushes.
2. Pruners- for dead-heading, for nipping string, and of course, pruning.  By- Pass pruners are the only way to go, when in the garden.
3.  Rubber Shoes- adapted from the wooden clogs of Holland, the washable, versatile rubber clog is a garden must-have.  A good pair of Wellies is also a must- muddy soil and wet lawns are easier to navigate when your entire foot is covered.
4.  Big Floppy Hat- protects you face from the sun’s ray, because wrinkles are a no-no for guys and gals- need I say more!
5. Sunscreen- a broadband UVA/UVB sunscreen is a definite must.  The sun is great, but its rays are not.
Whether you dress to the nines, or the opposite of the nines, in the office or the garden, there are many stylish ways to make your gardening ventures a bit more Gardenista-like. Whether you choose a pink pair of Wellies, or a pair of faux-grass flip-flops- I know I will still rock a pair of paint-splattered shorts, a face hiding big floppy hat, and a pair of Wellies.  Gardening is messy, so why ruin my fashions with dirt J
Me in a floral print dress and my trusty Wellies...with my Maggie!
*Gardenista was the only fashion-maven word I could think of- sorry men!  But by no means are men exempt from looking stylish- even in the garden!


Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Promise America" to Not Move Firewood!

Alexis Alvey, Horticulture Agent, CSU Denver Extension

What do baseball bats, bugs, and ash trees all have in common? (And no, this is not some lame, bar room joke.)  Well, they are all part of the "Promise America" campaign initiated by the US Department of Agriculture.  This campaign has been launched to educate everyday homeowners and gardening enthusiasts alike about the invasive insect pest called the Emerald Ash Borer (Agrilus planipennis) which is killing literally millions of ash trees across America.  There are a handful of different species of ash trees that are native to the Midwest and the East Coast that are commonly planted as great urban street trees throughout the US, including Denver.  Wood from ash trees has traditionally been used to make baseball bats.  Unfortunately, all of our native ash, including White Ash (Fraxinus americana) and Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), which are the two species planted in horticulture, are completely at the mercy of Emerald Ash Borer.    This tree-killing beetle was first identified in the US in 2002 near Detroit, Michigan and is native to eastern Russia, northern China, Japan, and Korea.  No one knows for sure how or when it got here, but most likely in the 1990s it came to the US in ash wood used for stabilizing cargo in ships or for packing or crating heavy consumer products.  It has now spread into seventeen additional states and two Canadian provinces and continues expanding its range.  Its spread has been accelerated by the movement of infested firewood.  Last year it was discovered in Kansas for the first time, and people are worried that it will soon be in Colorado.  Denver Parks & Recreation’s Forestry Division will begin monitoring for Emerald Ash Borer for the first time this season. 

Photo: Adult Emerald Ash Borer 
(Leah Bauer, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station,

The Emerald Ash Borer is actually a relatively pretty insect (I say relative, because in my opinion all insects are kind-of gross.)  The adult beetles are a bright, metallic green, a half-inch long, and have a flattened back. But the problem is not the adult beetles, it is their larvae.  The larvae are a type of flatheaded borer.  (By the way, “You are such a flathead!!” makes for a great insult!)  Larvae hatch from eggs laid within bark crevices and under bark scales in the spring.  They chew through the outer bark of the tree and into the cambium where they feed in the phloem interrupting the flow of nutrients within the tree, ultimately girdling it. 

Signs and symptoms of Emerald Ash Borer infestation are yellowing leaves on branches and then dieback generally in the top of the tree canopy first.  Sprouting from the base of the trunk can also occur.  If you are lucky and look very very carefully, you may see small holes in the trunk that are 1/8” in diameter and that are D-shaped.  Complete defoliation and tree death typically occurs within 2-3 years.   

Photo: Green Ash dead due to Emerald Ash Borer 
(David Cappaert, Michigan State University,

Unfortunately there is no simple cure for Emerald Ash Borer.  This little beetle has had an enormous economic and ecological impact.  The devastation of the insect is remarkable - over 53 million ash trees have died or are dying from the borer and all of North America's 7 billion ash trees are at risk.  It is estimated that up to $26 billion has been lost due to the borer in just four Midwestern states.  This took into account the cost of lost tree value, tree removal, and tree replacement. 

Invasive pests have been incredibly problematic for our urban trees and native forests for the past century.  From Dutch Elm Disease to Chestnut Blight to Asian Longhorn Beetle, invasive insects and disease have changed the composition and ecological functioning of our forests as well as their look and feel.  So please, “Promise America” that you will not move firewood; that you will burn firewood where you buy it; and that you will plant a diverse selection of trees and not all the same species. Oh, and that old wooden baseball bat of yours may be more valuable than you think!  

Promise Not To Move Firewood

For more information, visit:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Lawn Tonics...

Posted by: Tony Koski, CSU Extension

I get a lot of (mostly) good lawn questions. No big surprise there. More surprising (OK, annoying!) is how many gardening myth questions my Extension colleagues and I get – to include the use of magical, restorative tonics and elixirs for every part of your landscape. Is this yet another example of if “you can find it on the internet”….watch Jerry Baker promote it during PBS fundraising week….or see it on the local news, that it must work? While the list of lawn care myths and remedies is long, let me comment on a particularly annoying one that surfaces whenever watering restrictions are imposed here in Colorado – that of the lawn drought tonic. Tonic promoters claim their cocktail will fertilize the lawn and help eliminate “bugs”, disease and thatch – all while keeping the lawn green with minimal watering. Many websites attribute its origin to a golf course superintendent. Self-proclaimed gardening “expert” Jerry Baker, creator of a myriad of just plain weird landscape tonics, claims the recipes as his. Whatever the source, I assure you that no self-respecting golf super would ever attach his/her name and reputation to such a concoction. If you do an internet search, you can find dozens of sites promoting variations of the lawn tonic. A frequently cloned
No "lite beer"! Would a microbrew
work better?
referenced on many sites is a Denver television station story about the tonic that ran years ago during one of our droughts – and which was resurrected when Front Range watering restrictions became a reality on 1 April. You can read and watch the news video here, However, to save you the time and spare you the aggravation of watching it, here is the lawn tonic recipe. NOTE: Including it here DOES NOT imply any endorsement. To the contrary, I recommend that you don't use it.

The "Lawn Tonic"

-One full can of regular pop (any brand, but no diet soda)

-One full can of beer (no light beer)

-1/2 cup of liquid dishwashing soap (do NOT use anti-bacterial dishwashing liquid)

-1/2 cup of household ammonia

-1/2 cup of mouthwash (any brand)

-Pour into 10-gallon hose-end sprayer (other sizes will work too)

-In high heat, apply every three weeks

No "anti-bacterial soap"...even
though ammonia and mouthwash
are antibacterial in nature?Hmmm....?
So…does anything here have any merit when it comes to caring for a lawn? Maybe. But even if there are potentially beneficial ingredients here, one thing I’ve noticed after reviewing many lawn tonic recipes is that the general recommendation is to “apply it to the lawn”. Rarely is there any suggestion as to how large of an area that a single recipe should cover. More importantly, none of the recipes I read gave directions for what setting to use on the hose-end sprayer when applying the tonic.


What rate setting to use? How much
lawn area does a "batch" cover?

Another problem with these recipes is that they recommend the use of household ammonia. First, the concentration of household ammonia varies with brand. Second, using household ammonia as a nitrogen source isn’t the best of ideas. The ammonia…the nitrogen…is in a form that is good for cleaning floors, not for fertilizing plants. I will spare you the chemistry, but take my word: it’s not a safe (for plants anyway) fertilizer source. And consider this: the amount of nitrogen (from the ammonia, since nothing else in the recipe contains nitrogen) provided by a single batch applied to ONLY 250 square feet of lawn is equivalent to around 0.1 pound of N per 1000 square feet. Clearly this is not a safe, efficient, or cost-effective way to apply nitrogen to a lawn.
A REALLY poor nitrogen
source for plants
What about the beer? The claim is that the yeast and other beneficial microbes in it will help thatch decompose and the carbohydrates and microbes in ONE CAN OF BEER will somehow rejuvenate the soil flora of your entire lawn! In reality, the beer provides little more than some extra water and a small amount of sugar, as the yeast and any other microbes in the beer are dead…so there are no yeast or “good” microbes being addedto the lawn. It’s equally ridiculous to believe that the infinitesimally small amount of sugar applied with the soda could provide anything more than an infinitesimally small benefit to the lawn. The dishwashing soap may act as a wetting agent, perhaps relieving some water repellency in a thatchy lawn that has become too dry. Curiously, most lawn tonic recipes warn against using anti-bacterial dish soap – ignoring the fact that the next ingredient in the recipe, mouthwash, is itself anti-bacterial in nature? If the amounts of nitrogen and other potentially beneficial ingredients are present in quantities too small to have a real effect on lawn quality, why do people believe this stuff works? Perhaps it is that anyone who will go through the hassle of mixing up and applying these tonics many times throughout the growing season is someone who is likely to pay closer attention to mowing, watering, and aerating their lawn? And perhaps they are also fertilizing their lawn with other sources (many sites promoting the lawn tonic also encourage the use of natural organic fertilizers!)? Remember that devoted tonic users are also hand-watering their lawn as often as once every 2-3 weeks. This could provide enough water to mask dry spots from poor irrigation system coverage, spots that would be otherwise more apparent during times of watering restrictions. Of course, there is always the “placebo effect” – if you believe that it works…then it works! Clearly no one wants to admit that they are wasting their time (and beer!) spraying a totally ineffective mix of household cleaners, oral care product and party beverages on their lawn. Can using it hurt anything (besides your pride, perhaps, after reading this)? Yes, if basic lawn care practices are ignored under the mistaken belief that using the tonic will provide adequate fertilization and can fix any and all lawn problems. If legitimate, common sense lawn care is practiced by tonic devotees? Then applying the tonic is harmless and little more than recreational lawn care that provides the home gardener with some exercise and the lawn with insignificant amounts of nitrogen and wetting agent. One thing you can bet – anyone who applied lawn tonic before this week’s snowstorm will confidently say over the next few weeks “See…it works!”. The inch or so of slow-release water, return of spring (warmer temperatures and more hours of sun), and release of soil organic N had nothing to do with their lawn greening up…but don’t confuse me with the facts!

Interested in the science behind, and potential benefits of, common home-grown garden remedies and tonics? In his book “The Truth About Garden Remedies – What Works, What Doesn’t & Why”, Dr. Jeff Gilman, a professor and Extension horticulturist at the University of Minnesota, writes about the history and potential benefits of age-old garden remedies. In it he logically debunks any potential value of spraying your yard (or other plants) with beer and soda, and explains why using household ammonia as a fertilizer source is just damn dumb. Jeff is also a frequent contributor to another excellent hort blog that he and 3 university colleagues started a few years ago, The Garden Professors.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Frankly, Deer just want your Tulips!

Posted by Kurt M. Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

This morning, I found some “evidence” that our front yard has played host to several deer in the previous evenings.  Not wanting to leave their droppings on the lawn, I added that to the “To-Do” (pun intended) list.  When animal numbers increase or habitat decreases, deer move into yards in search of food.  

In some areas, home landscapes may become the major source of food.  Deer can pose a serious threat to the health of plants growing around homes.  Damage is commonly noticed on new, succulent growth in the spring. Tulips, beware!

Because deer lack upper incisors, browsed twigs and stems will have a rough, shredded surface.  Damage caused by rabbits will instead have a crisp, sharp 45-degree cut.  Of course, deer have very distinctive foot prints and can damage trees up to 6 feet in height, ruling out other rodents and mammals.

Prevention of damage by deer is justified in many horticultural and agricultural settings.  Deer are protected from harvesting except during licensed big-game hunting seasons and other special circumstances.  Using exclusion as a means of damage control may be justified.

Fencing is one of the most effective means of protecting trees and plants from browsing.  Unfortunately, fencing can become expensive and unsightly (a ten foot tall woven wire fence may not be desirable in some areas).  There are several ways to work with fencing to help protect your trees and orchards.

The use of repellents has grown in popularity in recent times.  Capsaicin (hot sauce) has been used in numerous trials with varying success.  It has been listed as being very effective against deer and elk in trials in strong enough concentrations.  One determining factor is how hungry the deer are and how the weather has affected the treatment.

Another effective means of repelling deer is to use a 20-25 percent mixture of chicken eggs and water.  This mixture can be sprayed on the twigs of the trees and has a relatively long effective time of effectiveness (depending on weather).

Other repellents such as soap bars, human hair, and predator urine have shown to have moderate to low effectiveness for keeping deer away from favorite plants.

Tenacity seems to be the best offense to defend your favorite plants against browsing deer.  In the mean time, I'm off to scoop up the evidence.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Growing vegetables in a dry land takes planning

Posted by Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

As another hot, dry season creeps closer, vegetable gardeners are pondering what they can do to conserve water and still get a bounty for the kitchen.  During times of drought, vegetable gardening is a challenge, but proper planning helps conserve water while still providing good quality produce.

Build your soil’s moisture holding capacity by amending the soil with organic material, such as compost. This breaks up clay, providing better growing conditions for roots during times of stress.

Make a commitment to drip or trickle irrigation.  Sure, a gently oscillating fan of water is festive to watch, but in a dry land, irrigating by throwing water through the air is wasteful.   Drip reduces water usage by about 50 percent, and soaker hoses are inexpensive and easy to use.  Known as a "leaky pipe," soaker hoses let water seep out all along its length at a slow rate.  Emitter type hoses, with small disks that seep, are good on individual plants, such as peppers, but not as efficient with leafy row crops, like lettuce, which need uniform coverage all along the row. 
Straw mulch helps conserve water

Mulching is crucial for conserving water.   Research has shown that one to three inches of organic mulch lowers water needs by reducing evaporation of moisture from the soil.  Weeds are less of a problem too, which leaves more water available for the vegetables.  Dried grass clippings or straw are ideal; wait until soil has warmed before applying the mulch, usually in mid-June.  Plastic mulch is only recommended for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and vining crops such as squash or cucumbers.  Place mulch over water hoses for best water conservation.

Choosing plants that withstand hot, dry conditions greatly help in getting good production.  Many varieties are available that resist bolting (when the plant stops growing edible leaves and rapidly produces non-edible flowers). 

Plant in blocks, rather than rows; you’ll increase yields five-fold.  Block planting is a compact design in which vegetables are grown in smaller, square plantings instead of stretching them out in long rows.  As the plants grow, their leaves fill in and shade roots, conserving water in the soil underneath.  Plan on blocks that are three to four feet wide and any desired length. 
Group plants with similar water needs together on the same soaker hose.  Cucumber and zucchinis, for example, require similar amounts of water.  Water is needed during the first few weeks of development, immediately after transplant, and during formation of edible plant parts. 

Apply water at low pressure for only 10 to 15 minutes. Much faster than this causes run-off, unless the soil has exceptionally good drainage.  Water during early morning, when wind is low and temperatures are cool.  Use a timer for the watering and time it to deliver only what is needed by the plants, avoiding watering during rainfall.  Watering restrictions that limit irrigation to every two or three days should not have a major impact on the vegetable garden.

Provide wind breaks and shade to reduce evaporation of moisture from soil.  Wind can wick water from the soil and from plant surfaces.  High heat and direct sun take their toll on even the most sun loving plants if water is reduced.  Tomatoes, for example, will not set fruit in high temperatures and peas, lettuces, and broccolis will bolt.  Shade can be provided with the use of shade barrier cloth that will cut sunlight by approximately 25 percent.  Gardeners should construct a shade canopy over plants before the high heat of the summer arrives and place the cloth over heat sensitive plants when temperatures soar into the upper 80's.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Damping Off Cuts Them Off At Their Knees

By Mary Small and Curtis Utley, CSU Extension in Jefferson County
It was finally time to start basil seedlings for our research and demonstration garden here at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.  Containers filled? Check. Seeds planted? Check. Water applied? Check. Lights set on timer? Check.
Everything went well until shortly after the seedlings sprouted.  Then they flopped over. Looking more closely at the plants, we discovered a pinched-in area near the bottom of all the toppled stems. It was the dreaded damping off.  The crop was almost a complete loss.
Damping off is a problem that gardeners often encounter when growing their own seedlings. It is caused by soil borne fungi or fungal like organisms that thrive in wet soil. They enter the roots and secrete enzymes that break down plant tissue, creating a mushy mess. Using non-pasteurized soil for seeding and overwatering are the two most common causes of this problem.
Overwatering is easy to do in our dry indoor air.  The soil surface dries out quickly, making us think it needs some more. Excess water drives out necessary soil oxygen and at the same time enables the organisms to move easily throughout the soil, contact roots and begin their damage.
If you don’t know whether or not soil is pasteurized, you can do it yourself. Place several inches of moist soil in an oven-safe pan.  Preheat the oven to 180-200 degrees oF and place the pan in it. Periodically use a thermometer to check the soil temperature in the middle of the pan.  When it reaches 180 degrees, turn off the oven and keep the door closed for a half hour. Don’t mix this pasteurized soil with non-pasteurized soil or it will become contaminated.
Always surface sterilize containers and tools using a mixture of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water.  Avoid overwatering to keep soil conditions unfavorable for the growth and spread of damping off organisms.
Now you’re probably wondering what we did wrong in our basil-raising efforts.  Call it being in too big of a hurry to get growing. We overlooked surface sterilizing the containers. Now we get to plant all over again.  You can bet we’ll correct our mistake!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Mulch: More than Just a Pretty Face

By: Alison O'Connor, Horticulture agent, Larimer County Extension

We horties gossip as much as any other office clique...generally about bad gardening advice.  Usually I just roll my eyes at the stuff (something I perfected as a teenager), but this time…it struck a nerve.  Maybe it’s because I’m a huge advocate of that shredded wood we call "mulch", but I felt the need to blog about it.  Whether you agree with me or not…

Fellow blogger, Tony Koski, emailed this link to me and a few colleagues last week, from a blog, called “Grounded Design”.  The author, Thomas Rainer, does have some valid points.  But I just can’t get on board with his philosophy about hating tree mulch rings?  If you choose not to read the article, Mr. Rainer suggests the following about mulch rings at the base of trees:

--They are “ugly” and “have got to go” and “make Swiss cheese out of a continuous lawn”
--They don’t make mowing easier; he states that it’s not difficult to mow around trees, and mulch rings actually require more maintenance [compared to turf]
--Rather than mulching, he suggests planting continuous vegetation to the base of the tree

I do agree with Mr. Rainer on a couple counts.  First, improper mulching is very bad for the tree.  Volcano mulching and covering the flare does lead to stem girdling roots, creates a textural interface that can reduce oxygen availability to the tree’s roots and disrupt water movement to the root ball.  Second, he admits that it does keep mowing equipment and string trimmers away from the base of the tree—one of the main reasons I advocate for mulch.  How many of you have seen trees nicked or wounded from equipment?  It’s tough on the tree (and often leads to decline or death), and it looks horrible.  I’d gladly pick the “Swiss cheese” look over gaping trunk wounds any day. 
If that doesn't make you wince! Ouch.

Clearly the tree "guard" failed.  Mulch may have prevented this from happening.
While his expertise in landscape architecture is admirable…I wonder how he’s never run into the difficulties of growing turf (or other vegetation) under shade trees?  This is a very common question I get each year—“Why can’t I grow [insert plant here] under my mature tree?”  More than likely, it’s because it’s just too darn shady.  Turf needs a minimum of 4-6 hours of sun to grow (more like limp along).  Plus, the tree is sharing water with the lawn—and neither are likely getting enough.  So why would you want to increase the irrigation, and risk killing the tree from overwatering it, in order to grow some grass?  Instead, use mulch and focus your watering efforts on just the tree!  While you can plant shade tolerant perennials or groundcover under trees, I don’t think they are easier to maintain than mulch.  (I just spent the weekend cleaning up my yard—let me tell you—those perennials can be cantankerous.  The scratches on my arms prove it.)

My mother-in-law says it best: mulch is like make-up for the landscape—it looks good and has many benefits…if applied correctly.  In most of our urban areas, water restrictions begin today.  It’s been proven than mulch can reduce water evaporation from the soil surface by up to 70%.  That’s significant.  In addition, a study conducted at the College of DuPage in Illinois by Morton Arboretum staff found that trees that were mulched had significantly greater caliper, crown and root development compared to those with turf growing up to their base (Green and Watson, 1989).  Another study found that mulch modified the soil environment, increased root and shoot growth and aided in plant establishment of desert willow, while turf impaired its establishment (Kraus, 1998).

Trees with mulch rings...does it really look that bad? Is it better to sacrifice tree health at the expense of design?  Trees struggle enough in our tough Colorado climate.

My advice: be sure to mulch, but do it correctly.  Don’t volcano mulch.  Don’t mulch to the trunk (keep it a few inches away).  Don’t have too thick of a layer—2-4” is perfect. Don’t overwater areas that are mulched, since it does hold soil moisture better than unmulched areas.  Keep your rings a diameter of 2-3’ wide (but the wider, the better).  And find a mulch that works for your location and your plants.  So here’s to helping trees with…trees….just little chipped bits of them.