CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sixty Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Soil Preparation

Today on Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Soil Preparation!

The best way to begin preparing your soil is with a soil test. Your CSU Extension Office can help you with this. This test is a great place to start because it tells you what to add to your soil to help your garden perform better.
The most important thing you can do for your garden’s soil is to add organic matter. Organic matter aids in drainage and minimizes soil compaction, which reduces soil oxygen. Organic matter also provides an important source of nitrogen for your plants.

When choosing an amendment, consider carefully what you use. Animal based products and bio-solids are high in salts and heavy metals which build up in your soils. Consider using well aged plant based compost instead.

Last, roto-till 3-4 inches of compost into your soil at a depth of 6-8 inches, rake your bed smooth, and enjoy planting!

For more information on gardening, contact your local CSU Extension Office.

Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success is a production of
Colorado State University Extension.
CSU Extension: Extending knowledge, changing lives.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Horticulture Classes – Anytime, Anywhere

Posted by: Jennifer Bousselot, Affiliate Faculty, Colorado State University, Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Many who are deeply involved in gardening are drawn in to a little additional horticultural education from time to time. Whether you are a Master Gardener, a member of a horticultural trade organization, or an enthusiastic hobbyist you probably want to dig a little deeper into a subject once in a while.

For example, have you ever wanted to learn more about the origins and basics of garden design? If so, you might be interested in a new online course by Colorado State University in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture called Landscape Theory and Garden Design. It is an eight week course, May 19 through July 11 where you will explore the major aspects of the history, theory and basic design strategies involved in landscape architecture. Assistant professor Kelly Curl will be leading the course. It is available for three college credits but you don’t have to be enrolled at CSU to take it. Visit for more information and to sign up for the class.

If growing food is more your type of gardening, then a new online CSU course called Urban Horticulture may be up your alley. Explore the various forms that urban gardening can take, from community gardens to school gardens to rooftop gardens, all in one twelve week course. This is a graduate level course so evaluating all aspects of these systems will be a major part of the course. The course runs from May 19 until August 11 with a new topic discussed each week. I will be teaching this class as a horticulture and online education enthusiast. Visit for more information and to sign up. 

Incidentally I will also be teaching an eight week online summer course for Iowa State University on green roofs specifically. Information is available at:

The nice thing about online learning is you can earn some credit – or update training – from anywhere at almost any time. Even from a bench in your garden. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sixty Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Buying Transplants!

Today on Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Buying Transplants!

When selecting transplants from the nursery or garden center, be sure you pick the best plants available. Plants should be a healthy green color, with a wide bushy form. Avoid buying leggy or stretched plants. Look for any signs of disease, insects, or damage to the plant before you bring it home.

Plants that are over watered in the nursery are often shallow rooted. Check the roots by pulling the plant out of its pot or container. Also check for pot bound or girdling roots before you purchase a plant.

Once you get your plants home, you will want to harden them off by placing them outside in the sun. Gradually increase the amount of time the plants spend out in the elements each day for a week prior to planting to acclimate them to their new environment.

For more information on gardening, contact your local
CSU Extension Office.

Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success is a production of
Colorado State University Extension.
CSU Extension: Extending knowledge, changing lives.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Look What I Found in My Neighborhood

Posted by Mary Small, Jefferson County Extension

I hope you’re ready for a quick stroll through the community park just beyond my yard. We’re going to take a look at some biotic and abiotic problems caused by either living or non-living entities. 

Here is freeze injury on daylily leaves.  Night temperatures dropped into the upper teens and low 20’s a week ago, following a couple days in the mid 60’s to low 70’s.  Daylily and daffodil leaves were hit the worst, depending on how much leaf tissue had emerged. Some early blooming daffodil flowers were damaged, but the later bloomers will be just fine (assuming this doesn’t happen again!)

Oh look, there’s still some moss on the bare soil in a flower bed.  The soil in this section of the neighborhood is poorly drained, heavy clay. Perforated pipe was installed to improve drainage and plant based compost was been tilled into the soil.  But it is still a struggle for plants - doesn’t help that this part of the property often gets a double dose of irrigation water!

Look to the lower right to see a former lawn.  It’s in the community park, on a slope and faces west. There's no shade.
Kids and dogs play on the surface much of the year, so the soil is also compacted. A small crop of dandelions  have moved in. At first glance, the turf appears to be in great need of aeration, water and fertilizer.  That will help fill it in, making it healthier and give the dandelions less room to roost.

I had this damage pegged as abiotic (knowing the care it doesn’t receive) until I looked closer at the sparse blades of green grass….and voila, it’s biotic! The leaves are stippled or speckled and mites crawling all over the leaves. Dry conditions and south and west facing slopes are just perfect for turf mites to thrive. Because they’re active in early to mid spring, they’ve already been feeding and damaging turf and it will continue until sometime next month. Good turf care is needed ASAP! (Although good care last year would have been helpful, along with some water this winter.)

The pine connected to this trunk (below right) has been struggling for some time and finally turned completely brown sometime 
 last fall. Although we can't find above ground pest injury, I bet the roots could tell us a different story! There’s a flat side to the lower trunk, and like many other trees in the park it was planted incorrectly. I suspect there are girdling roots causing the flattened side of the lower trunk. 

Oops! This crabapple was planted too deep. There’s no trunk flare; it looks like a telephone pole at the base.  I wonder how long it will survive in the park. So far it leafs and flowers well, but it's only been planted two years. 

I’m not sure what plant this is supposed to be (below) , but obviously it has a poor pruning job.  So now as we end our quick tour, I leave you with a question to ponder: is this a biotic or an abiotic problem?!

Monday, April 21, 2014

Weed of the Moment: Purple (Mustard) Haze

Posted by: Tony Koski, CSU Turfgrass Specialist

You know you've seen it...that pretty little purple flower sprouting up all over roadsides and disturbed areas. This is purple (blue) mustard (Chorispora tenella) and it's an early flowering winter annual that some people think is a wildflower.
Yes, it's an attractive flower and the color is appealing in the early spring when not much else is blooming. But it can be invasive, depending on the situation. The fortunate thing is that by the time it flowers, it's nearly at the end of its lifecycle. To help prevent reseeding, remove the flowers via mowing.
What you need to think about is WHY it's growing there. It thrives in disturbed soils and can take pretty tough growing conditions where other plants falter. It's a common weed in fall lawn seedings. If it is in the lawn this spring, you should never see it again. The best control for weeds in the lawn is a thick, healthy, dense stand of turf. This weed doesn't stand a chance against healthy bluegrass (or fescue or buffalograss). If it's in garden beds, you have the option to pull it, hoe it or mulch it over.
For now, enjoy the won't be around much longer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sixty Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Hanging Baskets!

Today on Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Hanging Baskets!

Before you hang out your “welcome to spring” hanging basket, here are a few tips to ensure you have beautiful hanging baskets that will last the entire season.

Plan ahead! Know the exposure of the location where you intend to hang the basket. Will it receive full shade, partial shade, filtered sun all day, or will it receive morning sun, afternoon sun or full sun all day? Knowing this, select baskets with flowers that will perform well in their respective environments.

Another thing to consider is wind. Remember, baskets that receive more sun and more wind will dry out faster and may need to be watered more than once a day.

When you take your baskets down to water, inspect them for disease and other potential problems. Remove any dead or spent blooms and fertilize your baskets regularly to keep them looking beautiful all season.

For more information on gardening, contact your local CSU Extension Office.

Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success is a production of Colorado State University Extension.
CSU Extension: Extending knowledge, changing lives.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Herbicide Carryover

Herbicide Carryover

Posted by: Darrin Parmenter, County Director, CSU Extension in La Plata County

For many gardeners, an application of livestock manure to the compost pile is a rite of autumn. Manures add organic matter and nitrogen to improve soil quality and vegetable production. There are good reasons to be cautious about routine manure use.  Heavy applications lead to salt and phosphorous buildup and fresh manures (less than 100 days old) may contain dangerous e. coli bacteria.

A new concern has emerged. It resembles a childhood poem and begins, “This is the garden that Jack made.” The final stanza goes, “This is the herbicide sprayed on the field that grew the hay ate by the horse that dropped the manure that lay in the garden that Jack made.” Picture Jack with a dead tomato plant.

Selective herbicides, such as the aminopyralids (brand name Milestone), clopyralids (Redeem and others), and picloram (Tordon),  used for the control of broadleaf weeds in grass-hay production and pastures, have the ability to survive cutting, baling, storage, and feeding, as well as time spent in piles of manure and compost. When these are applied to the garden, the herbicides may still be active and adversely affect subsequently planted broadleaf plants. Unfortunately, most of our important food crops are broadleaf plants. Symptoms of herbicide carryover damage to sensitive crops (beans, peas, tomatoes, potatoes, and others) are twisting, curling, and rolling of the leaves, especially the younger ones.

Manufacturers inform users of the problem on their product labels. The herbicides do not harm grass or animals that feed on them, and aged manures can be safely returned to grassy fields. But because the chemicals can persist for extended amounts of time, hay producers should disclose their herbicide selection to livestock owners. In turn livestock owners should disclose herbicide residues in manures given or sold to farmers and gardeners. The alternative, crop failure, is a liability risk for all.

If you cannot confirm their source of manure is free of this chemical, look for another source or improve your garden soil without any manure at all.Or if you are set on using manure in your garden, then performing a simple bioassay may be the easiest, cheapest, and even most effective way to determine the presence of herbicides: 
  • Materials include: test material (compost, manure, topsoil), potting mix (compost-free), washed plastic pots and pea seeds.
  1. Set up control pots by filling 3 pots with potting mix.
  2. Prepare test pots and label pots. Use material in question and fill 3 pots. If manure needs to be tested use a 2:1 manure:soil ratio.
  3. Plant 3 seeds in each prepared and labeled pot.
  4. Space plants in a random order with plastic saucers under each one. Space the pots far enough apart to avoid splashing when watering. 
  5. Maintain consistent growing conditions.
  6. Evaluate plant growth. If twisting, curling, rolling, or death of the leaves is witnessed, it would be advisable to NOT use that product. 
For more information, go to


Saturday, April 12, 2014

What is happening with these trees....and turf?

Posted by: Tony Koski, CSU Extension

I was driving through Windsor this afternoon and spied these trees... and spots. Who can tell me what is happening? I may have a prize for the correct answer.... or a drawing if there are a bunch of correct answers. Of course, you have to be brave and leave your name along with the guess. No worries... there are no bad answers (but only one correct one....hehe...).

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sixty Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Frost Dates!

Today on Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Frost Dates!

Because frosts kill tender plants and seedlings, knowing the average frost free date in your community is an important tool for aiding in successful gardening. 

As a rule of thumb for Colorado, the average last frost free date is around Mother’s Day. It is important to note that this is an average date. In some years, the last frost can be as early as April, or as late as June.

In the autumn, the average first frost usually occurs around the first week of October. Again this is only an average, and some frost can occur as early as mid September or late October around Halloween.

You can extend your growing season by placing a hoop house or covering your plants with a sheet of clear plastic to protect against light frosts.

For more information on gardening, contact your local
CSU Extension Office.

Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success is a production of
Colorado State University Extension.
CSU Extension: Extending knowledge, changing lives.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Patience Is a Virtue When It Comes to Wet Soil

Posted by: Micaela Truslove
CSU Extension, Broomfield County

Longer, warmer days - check. Incredibly large seed order that will require some creative planning in order to get it all shoehorned into the garden - check. Gardening tools cleaned, sharpened and ready for the gardening season - check. Making sure the soil isn't too wet to work before you dig in? Uh oh.

Being an exuberant gardener is a good thing, but when it comes to soil, patience is certainly a virtue. It takes years to improve garden soil, and one wrong move may undo all of the hard work and hours spent loosening, turning and amending. That wrong move is often working the soil while it is too wet.

Ideally soil is made up of four different components: about 45% mineral content from degraded rocks, about 25% water and 25% air, and about 5% organic matter. Notice that the ideal soil has water and air in equal measures. Roots require oxygen to survive and thrive, and they will only grow where oxygen is present in sufficient quantities.

Photo credit:
Along with water, air is held in a soil's pore space; this is the space between soil particles and within soil aggregates (small clumps of soil glued together by chemical and biological processes). When we add organic matter and loosen the soil, we make more room for water, air and roots.

When wet soil is worked, whether it is walking on the soil surface, digging a hole to plant some seeds or tilling in organic matter, the air is pushed out as those pore spaces are pressed together and compacted, damaging the soil's structure. If you've ever tried to dig in clay soil that has become compacted and baked solid, you know that it is not unlike trying to dig into your concrete driveway.

To avoid this, wait until the soil has dried sufficiently before you begin to work in the garden this spring. There is a simple way to test whether or not the soil has dried down enough to work: take a small handful of soil from a depth of about 3". Squeeze the soil into a ball. If water runs between your fingers when you do this, it is definitely too wet. If the soil forms a ball, drop the ball on the sidewalk, or if you are more coordinated than I am, throw it up in the air and let it land on your palm. If the ball shatters, the soil is dry enough to work; if it doesn't, give it a few more days of dry weather and test it again.

Read more about soil texture, structure and pore space here, and remember to protect those pores by waiting until the soil is dry enough to work this spring!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sixty Second Secrets for Gardening Success

Today on Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success: Starting Seeds!
Starting seeds is a fun and inexpensive way to get your garden started for the season.
To start your seeds indoors, purchase trays or pots and potting soil specially designed for staring seed from your local garden center or hardware store.
Start seeds about 4-8 weeks before the last frost in your area. Read the seed packet carefully to determine how much time seeds need to germinate.  Avoid starting seeds indoors too early as this will result in crowded spindly looking plants.
Sow seeds according to package instructions and water in with a fine mist sprayer and cover with a plastic dome or bag.

Place the seeds in a warm location out of direct sunlight until seeds germinate.  About 2 weeks prior to planting out, gradually move your seedlings outside and reduce the amount of water they receive to harden them off.

For more information on gardening, contact your local 
CSU Extension Office.

Sixty-Second Secrets for Gardening Success is a production of 
Colorado State University Extension. 
CSU Extension: Extending knowledge, changing lives.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Harbinger of spring

Posted by Linda McMulkin, CSU Extension-Pueblo County

Each plant lover probably has that one plant species that says “Finally, spring is here”.  It may be forsythia or crocus or red-stem filaree or any number of other plants.  For me, the plant that cries spring the loudest is our foothills native, Claytonia rosea, or spring beauty. 

Spring beauty is a close relative of moss rose and purslane, all members of the Portulacaceae family.  Unlike its relatives, spring beauty blooms early, sometimes as early as late January in parts of Pueblo County.  The tiny plants grow from a small corm with the above ground parts consisting of one or two basal leaves, a pair of stem leaves, and four or five white to pink blossoms.  A synonym, Claytonia lanceolata, describes the strap-like shape of the leaves.  The plant reproduces by seed and corm offshoots.  Spring beauty will grow in dry, rocky soil, but thrives in the moisture found under needle litter. 
Spring beauty are a common part of the Ponderosa pine forest, but since they bloom so early, I often miss their short season.  I’d been looking for them in the Pueblo County foothills for the past 6 weeks and finally found a few  growing under mountain mahogany on the side of a gorge near Colorado City, about 20 miles south of Pueblo.  I was pleased to find it for the first time in several years.  Little did I know the treat that awaited me closer to home.

The flower of Claytonia rosea has 5 white to pink petals, often with darker veins, 5 stamens and a 3 styled pistil. 
I moved from the prairie to the foothills this winter and intend to spend the summer learning what I have before making changes in the yard.  While I’ve been waiting for spring growth, I picked up some ponderosa cones to use in a new insect hotel, pulled some noxious weeds growing in the front yard, and cut down some encroaching scrub oak.  But I resisted the urge to do more than walk across the layer of oak leaves and pine needles in the back yard. 

The pay off for my neglect came last week, when a carpet of spring beauty opened in the needle litter.  Typically the blossoms open after I leave for work in the morning, but this weekend I got to enjoy the view.  I took pictures from the deck, standing on the edge of the carpet, and laying flat on the ground in the sun with pine cones poking me in the ribs. So much fun!

The back yard slopes a bit, so I was looking uphill through hundreds of tiny blossoms.   
The Colorado Plant Database reports that Native Americans ate the corms, which taste like
water chestnuts  when fresh and like potatoes when boiled.  That's a lot of gathering for a meal! 

I’ve seen my personal harbinger of spring and expect that there are other treasures and surprises in store for me in my new yard.  And I know now what I’ll do with that section of the back yard-nothing.  Nature planted a garden that I can never beat.