CO-Horts Blog

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Lego yard art sparks my imagination

Posted by Linda McMulkin, CSU Extension-Pueblo County
When I travel, I love to visit public gardens and often make time to visit the major botanical garden in the area.  And I’m always looking for fun ideas for yard art.  While in San Antonio for New Years, I found yard art that I’d love to make at home, if only I could find the materials.
A full sized Lego lawnmower

Our visit coincided with a cold front that left snow in Colorado, black ice in north Texas, and cool, wet days in the San Antonio area.  After a enduring a day at tourist spots filled with people in town for the holiday and Alamo Bowl, my husband and I wanted to find a quiet place.  We arrived at the San Antonio Botanical Gardens just as a light rain began to fall, so we donned our raincoats and set forth. 
This sculpture took over 30,000
Lego blocks to build.  The
hummingbird was nearly
3 feet long.

This Lego gardener picked a chilly day to be hoeing the garden.

I loved this Lego oak acorn that germinated
 under a mature live oak.  

The grounds were lovely, the greenhouses filled with fascinating plants, the children’s community garden amazing, the native ecosystem displays informative, and the water-wise landscape tips educational.  But the thing that kept Mike and me moving from garden to garden was the search for Lego sculpture. 

Predator/prey relationships was the theme of this sculpture.
The fox took 17,547 pieces to build and the rabbit 1,361.

My kids played with Lego when they were young and I have the typical parent memories of building fantastic structures with Lego and of stepping on pieces in the middle of the night.  I passed the Lego collection on to other kids when my girls lost interest, but seeing this exhibit made me want all those tiny toys back.  Of course, those pieces would have been only a small percent of the Lego needed to build the sculptures in San Antonio.  But, if I had 40,000 red Lego blocks, what might I create?
This rose, placed in the still
blooming rose garden, took
over 40,000 Lego pieces
to build.  

The Lego sculpture exhibit at San Antonio Botanical Garden ended just after our visit, but you can find this traveling exhibit at other gardens in the next few years.  The artist’s website,, lists the Denver Zoo as an upcoming site, from August 7 to November 1, 2015.  I’ll definitely have to take another road trip! 

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mysterious Turf Color: The Cause!

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

So many good guesses! Deicing salt injury is a very logical guess. It's not the cause of the present injury, but is likely to show up later in the spring - depending on how much more snow we get, and how much more salt is applied to the sidewalks on campus.

The guesses about snowplowing are darn close. This is turf injury that didn't happen recently however - and perhaps I could have been nice and told you that. I saw this late last year, probable in late November?

It is injury caused when the snow on sidewalks was BRUSHED from the walks - not plowed. The turf was a very healthy green when we had our first snow last fall - measurable in depth enough that brushing was used to clear the sidewalks. The brushing of the frozen green turf damaged the leaves to the point that they turned brown within a day of brushing - and have remained so to this point in time.

Excellent guesses everyone! Thanks for playing!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mysterious Turf Color

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

While walking across campus a few weeks ago, I noticed the unusual turf coloration along sidewalks throughout campus. 

Wondering what our faithful blog followers might think the cause of this turf discoloration to be? Is it anything to be (potentially) worried about? I know it's covered under many inches of snow right now - which I barely escaped by leaving for San Antonio around noon on Saturday (it was 81 F when I landed).

I'll post the cause of this mysterious discoloration in a few days. Please post your guesses below!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Warm Weather and Winter's Return

Posted by Eric Hammond- Colorado State University Extension Adams County
“Gosh it’s just so beautiful out today”

“Can you believe the weather?  We are so lucky we live in Colorado!”

“It’s flip-flop weather, I love it!”

These are the kinds of statements I have overheard over the past few weeks while the high temperatures have been in the 60’s and 70’s.  As much as I have enjoyed going jacketless, I have to confess these sorts of comments are starting to make me cringe.   
This heat wave started in early February (yes I used bold, underline and italics).  Sure, it’s not uncommon for us to experience a warm day here or there in the winter.  It’s one of the perks of living in Colorado.   However, this has been two solid weeks of warm weather.  Even the mid-week storms we have had were short lived “warm” storms.   These consistently warm mid-winter temperatures come with significant risk for landscape plants.

Some of the effects of all this abnormally warm weather are easy to see.  For example, many spring bulbs are already coming up.  Daffodils, crocuses and even some tulips are already peaking up, especially on the west sides of structures.  Some cool season weeds like redstem filaree and cheat grass (downy brome) have germinated are actively growing and consuming water and nutrients from the soil.   Beyond landscapes many winter annual crops such as winter wheat, encouraged by the warm weather and warming soil temperatures have been actively growing and may now be at risk if we receive a sudden hard frost.

Many spring bulbs have already sprouted

What worries me more is the changes in plants we can’t see that are brought on by the warm weather, especially in woody plants.  These plants go through a complicated and gradual process to acquire hardiness in the winter.  The main goal of which is to avoid the formation of ice crystals within their cells (this process is fascinating in a science-geek sort of way and more information on it can be found here:    This process is reversed by consistent warm temperatures leaving woody plants at risk if temperatures suddenly drop again.   

If woody plants have lost of some hardiness during the last couple weeks we might see several things if temperatures should suddenly drop:

·         The death of small outer branches of trees.  These branches are more exposed to cold air and do not have the thermal mass of larger branches to buffer them against temperature changes.

·         Frost cracks in trunks and larger branches.  Cambial tissues which have lost hardiness or which have damaged tissues from a previous cold event (like the early November freeze we had last year) are prone to frost cracking.

Arborvitae damaged by sudden cold temperatures last November.  Many woody plants were damaged by this event
So what can we do as gardeners and landscape managers to deal with fluctuating temperatures?

·         Use organic mulches such as woods chips or straw.  Organic mulch acts as an isolator which helps to mediate soil temperatures.   During the day, soil under an organic mulch does not get as hot (it’s insulated from solar radiation) and during the night the soil may not get as cold (it’s insulated from cold air).  Keeping the soil cooler during the day may help prevent bulbs from prematurely sprouting and help trees maintain cold hardiness.

·         Avoid pruning until early spring.  Pruning cuts can lead to cracking when exposed to extremely cold temperatures or rapid temperature fluctuations.

·         Wrap the trunks of young trees to help insulate them against temperature changes.  Trees should generally be wrapped around Thanksgiving and unwrapped at Easter.  Paper wraps are preferred to plastic.  More information can be found here: and

·         Protect spring bulbs which have sprouted with a thick layer of organic mulch (cover the plants).  Mulch can help insulate the tender shoots of bulbs from cold temperatures, to a point.  Be sure to remove the mulch in the spring, as deep mulch can restrict gas exchange and lead to low soil oxygen levels. 

·         Winter water when appropriate.  Plants that are healthy better tolerate most environmental stresses.  More information on winter watering can be found here:
Winter watering should be done about once a month if
we don't have significant snowfall

·         Follow other best management practices to improve plant health.  Plants that are healthy and have higher energy reserves are better able acclimate to changing temperatures.

·         Use appropriate plant material and site more tender material in sheltered sites.

·         Don’t panic.  No one can control the weather.

It does not look like temperatures are going to drop quite as severely tonight as was forecasted last week (at one point the low for Tuesday morning was forecasted to be just north of 0 degrees Fahrenheit) and I’m not saying that next time your co-worker, significant other or neighbor gushes about the warm weather you should lecture them on cold hardiness in plants, or normal weather for February in Colorado.   However, you might chime in with a word of sympathy for the plants or remind them to winter water.  Colorado is a tough place to be a plant.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Cold Frame Corner: Final Installment (Part IV)

Written by: Susan Perry, Larimer County Master Gardener

This is going to be my final blog about the cold frame experiment.  Not that we’re done – we still have spinach, carrots, and beets to harvest, probably till March – but simply because we’ve probably learned all the lessons and made all the adjustments that will come up this year.  In fact, Tom just harvested more spinach to make another batch of his home-made, from scratch family ravioli recipe.  Yippee!
The cold frames. 
Temperature:  We’ve dealt with brutal cold by using incandescent Christmas lights under space blankets draped over wickets.  Initially, we had lights on timers and adjusted the length of time that the lights were on.  More recently, I found a “thermocube” outlet online that’s available locally – it shuts off the lights at around 45 degrees and turns them on at 35 degrees.  It’s always plugged in, doesn’t require a time, and cost under $15.  It’s not super-precise but will work fine for our purposes.  I expect lettuce and spinach will be happier within this general temperature range and the goal for the carrots and beets was simply to prevent the ground from freezing.  The inclusion of space blankets makes a huge difference in retaining heat, plus they’re easy to store.  We use clothespins to attach them to the wickets.
Using Christmas lights to raise the temperature in the cold frames.
Wind:  We’ve dealt with wind, which blew off the cold frame tops when they were anchored by a lengthwise piece of wood with a half-size concrete block hanging from both ends.  Full sized concrete blocks worked well but were hard for one person alone to remove and replace every morning and afternoon.  So we went with two ratchet straps running lengthwise on each box, which have worked perfectly and are easy for one person to work with.

Mud:  Note to self – stepping stones between the cold frames for when the snow melts, instead of dealing with a mud pit!

Veggies:  Next year, we’re going to plant more lettuce and spinach and fewer beets.  We just can’t find enough recipes with enough variety for so many beets.  Carrots have worked well– for whatever reason, even though we usually roast them, we’re not bored.  But I think if we looked for more recipes, we’d find them.  Finally, the leeks.  Well, we lost most of them, harvested & froze those we could save.  I’d plant them again but we realized we have to remember that the cold frame for them has to be much taller.  So that cold frame might take two space blankets and might require other adjustments to keep them alive.  Raised beds might lend themselves to leek cold frames, if the leeks were planted deep enough.  A cold frame could be set directly on top of the raised bed.  We have a lovely potato and leek soup recipe that we enjoy and I’m sure there are many others we could take advantage of.  Other possible vegetable candidates we might consider in the future would include onions.  We’ve never tried parsnips but our handy carpenter friend Ted raves about them and both parsnips and onions would be similar to carrots, in that we’d just be preventing the soil from freezing.
Carrots harvested February 4, 2015.
Vacations and Automation:  One hope we had when we started was that we’d be able to automate everything in case we wanted to take a vacation.  If you’re an avid gardener, when do you take a vacation?  Spring is starting plants inside; summer is work outside; fall is harvests and fall crops; winter could include cold frames.  I read about an automated venting arm gizmo that is used in greenhouses but after this winter’s winds (and our many failures), I suspect that an automated venting arm and the tops would blowing to Kansas even if heavy-duty hinges were used.  One possibility would be a venting arm that used both temperature AND wind to determine when to open and close, but I expect it would be fairly expensive.  Besides, the space blankets provide BOTH cold and heat “protection”.  We know this because we had a few weeks when we felt lazy and didn’t remove the cold frame tops – with no negative effect.

Other Lessons:  The polycarbonate for the tops of the cold frames was very expensive and had little R-value.  But their benefit when compared to glass storm windows is that we don’t have to worry about safety/broken glass.  Time will tell if their useful life will be cost effective in the long-run.
Carrots growing in the cold frame.

What’s Next:  We’re planning on using the cold frames to warm the soil early in the spring and get an early start direct seeding some veggies (mostly cold season veggies).  We’ll try to incorporate the lessons learned from this winter into next winter’s efforts.  And I’m planning to munch on Tom’s second batch of his yummy spinach, mushroom, and cheese ravioli in the coming months!

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Great Heirloom Apple Adventure: Part I of...?

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

I have been bitten! By what? By the heirloom apple bug.

Historically, the Front Range of Colorado was flush with apple orchards. One of the first and arguably most successful was started by a man named Charles Pennock. From what I have learned, he was born in Livingston County, NY and in the spring of 1866, after a stint in the US Army, he came west to Colorado. Over the years he was involved in the construction of the High Line ditch around Bingham Hill, northwest of Ft. Collins, CO and then with building the roads through the Poudre Canyon, west of Ft. Collins, CO. In 1881 he retired and purchased land to homestead in Pleasant Valley, Bellvue, CO which he named “Apple Grove Fruit Farm”. He proceeded to plant acres and acres of fruit where others said nothing would grow. In the end, he had what some considered at the time to be one of the best orchard businesses in the area, trialing new varieties and experimenting to discover what would work well for Front Range fruit growers. His story is one of many heard all over the state. Jesse Frazier did the same near Canon City, CO. Jasper Hall was growing fruit down in Montezuma County, and there were many others. All were planting what they knew from home and seeking out new varieties to try as well. Most of these orchards no longer exist, however some of the trees still stand; their stories untold to newer generations. There is a small, but mighty group of people who are working to rediscover these lost stories and weave together the fabric of these forgotten orchards.

Pleasant Valley, Bellvue, CO

Now, back to the bite! I am not only fascinated with the plants, but the rich history and stories are what have captivated me recently. There is a never ending treasure hunt with clues to be found and linked together. As I have been getting more and more interested in all of this, I have come to realize that it is not a new found passion, but something that goes back a looooonggg time ago. I think it all started when I was a little girl…It was late summer and my mom and I were on a trip to the Western Slope of Colorado visiting friends and I had been promised a trail ride. One thing lead to another and we found ourselves nearing the end of the trip and NO trail ride had happened. I was devastated. Parents, when you promise a 7-year old a pony ride and don’t come through, well, it’s just not okay! Anyway, we were touring around the Delta area going to different orchards and came across one (I wish I could remember the name!) with an old man sitting on an apple crate with boxes and boxes of beautiful red apples piled around him. Just off to the side was a scruffy white pony tied to one of the apple trees, lazily grazing on grass. Again, one thing lead to another and before I knew it, the old man had fashioned a bridle out of orange twin and I was on the pony riding bareback through the orchard all on my own! It was one of the most magical experiences of my life. I swear I saw fairies flitting around the trees and dancing on the ripening fruit. The sunlight was shining through the leaves, with long rays highlighting all the little specs of dust and pollen and insects creating a world that I wish I could go to again as an adult. I’m telling you, magical!

Tree near the post office
Okay, fast forward a few years. I’m living in Bellvue, CO with my family. During the summers on our daily walk to the little Post Office to collect our mail, we would stop and pick a few apples off the gnarled, ancient tree that was along the path we took. Sometimes we’d pick just a few, sometimes we’d take a pillow case and fill it up with the small, hard green apples and my mom would make applesauce. When I had friends over it was always a favorite adventure to go pick apples from this tree and have an afternoon snack. Just this past weekend I was in Bellvue and decided to go see if the tree is still there, and it is. Could this tree be one of Pennocks???

Fast forward again, many, many years and I am living in Corrales, NM on one of the area’s oldest, continuously operational farms, the Curtis-Losack Farm. Evelyn, the matriarch of the farm and family, and my former landlady, grows all sorts, but namely apples. She is famous in the area for, among other things, her apple pies that she sells at the Grower’s Market on the weekends. While I lived there, I was lucky enough to get to help Evelyn peel buckets of apples in preparation for those pies and hear stories about the days of ol’ when she was a girl picking apples from the same trees she picks from today at the age of 85. To learn more about Evelyn and the history of farming in Northern NM, I highly recommend the book “If There’s Squash Bugs in Heaven, I Ain’t Staying: Learning to Make the Perfect Pie, Sing When You Need To, and Find the Way Home with Farmer Evelyn”, winner of the 2014 New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards for Biography (New Mexico subject) and Best Book.

Move ahead in time again and I’m visiting my family over the summer of 2012 in Ft. Collins and I go to an “open-house” at the old Water Works out toward LaPorte, CO. It is being preserved and used as a historic educational site. As I’m wandering the grounds, I come across a small, old orchard. Again, my interest is piqued, but I just file the experience away and enjoy the rest of my day.

Old orchard at the Water Works

Finally, here we are at present day. I’m a new CSU Horticulture Extension Agent, living along the Front Range again after some time away. Once again I find myself being drawn to learning more about these old apples, orchards and the early settlers who brought them here. Over the course of the next few months and perhaps years, I plan on continuing down this path of learning all I can about this subject and sharing my journey with you, the reader. Stay tuned for Part II of The Great Heirloom Apple Adventure…!!  

Historical information about Charles Pennock:

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Are you a SAD (Seed Acquisition Disorder) Sufferer?

Kurt Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

I got another seed catalog in today’s mail to go with the multiple email requests that I have also received this week.  These companies like to prey on gardeners like me who want to try out new seeds.  (S)He who dies with the most seeds wins, right?

One “cure” for the winter blues suffers amongst us is to begin planning (not planting, yet) for starting seeds indoors for transplanting outdoors later.  It's also a good way to grow certain varieties of plants that are not readily available as transplants in the nursery. 

Some problems occur, however, when you grow your own transplants. Many homes are too warm and have inadequate light, resulting in soft, spindly and pale seedlings. Sturdy, healthy seedlings are grown under high light intensities and fluctuating temperatures (warm days and cool nights). For example, desired daytime temperatures may be 70 to 75 degrees and nighttime ones 50 to 55 degrees depending on the species. 

One answer is to construct a special hotbed/cold frame structure. Using an unheated basement or other cool room, and adding solid warming cables and artificial light also works.  A combination of incandescent and florescent lighting is preferable. 

"Damping off" is another problem that often plagues seedlings. It is a fungal disease, caused by one of several soil-born organisms. Damping off may prevent seed germination altogether by plugging up the conductive tissue of a developing seedling. Seeds may be killed just as they are approaching full development. Using pasteurized soil or a soilless mix can help you avoid this problem. Providing correct temperatures, correct light and avoiding over watering are also beneficial. 

Novice Gardeners often plant seeds too early, in hopes of having large transplants. Unfortunately, these giants often develop growth and production problems. The transplanting procedure shocks plants. They have the best chance of recovering quickly when they are smaller rather than larger.

Ideally, transplants (ex: tomato, peppers) should be about the diameter of a pencil when transplanted.  Many purchased transplants are much larger than this, and may take more time to get established in the garden.

To grow transplants of the appropriate size, decide when you want to plant them outdoors. Find out the seed-to-transplant time and add seven to ten days for hardening off. Backtrack the total amount of time from your desired transplanting date and you have arrived at the seed planting date. For example, let's look at peppers. The goal will be to plant hardened-off pepper plants outside May 30 (two weeks after the “frost free date”). It takes 8 to 10 weeks to grow a pepper transplant, so that would be (using 10 weeks) March 21. After including 10 days for hardening off time, the planting date becomes March 11. 

Hardening off is the next step. This process prepares the transplants for outdoor conditions and plants will struggle if not subjected to it. A few days before "hardening" starts, reduce the amount of water plants receive, but don't allow them to wilt. To harden, begin by putting plants outdoors in a protected area for a few hours, then bring them back in. During the next ten days, gradually increase the amount of time they are outside and increase their exposure to wind and sun. After they've experienced several days of 10 to 12 hours outdoors, leave them outside 24 hours a day for a couple of days. 

Well, I’m not sure this is necessarily a “cure” for SAD, but it is sure fun to begin some plants indoors.  For now, I will just collect the catalogues, because (s)he who dies with the most seed catalogs DEFINITELY wins!