CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bringing Home the Magic of Disney Horticulture and a Fresh Look at the 2015 EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival.

A few weeks back I was on the phone finalizing some of my plans for my magical vacation to Walt Disney World where I would be attending the EPCOT International Flower and Garden Festival. The cast member on the other end of the line was a really great guy. He then asked me if I had ever been to the Flower and Garden Festival before. I told him not as a guest, but mainly as a former cast member. He asked what I did when I was a cast member and I told him Horticulture at EPCOT and Downtown Disney.
The cast member, Guy, we will call him, asked me what I do now, what I learned and what some of my favorite parts of doing horticulture and taking care of the landscapes at EPCOT were. I told him I learned a lot from my experience, but that what I was taught in school was the science of environmental horticulture. The way Disney does horticulture is not only a science but it also is an art form, what I call "entertainment horticulture." I learned that the way we manage landscapes can vary greatly depending on the nature of the landscape. After all, horticulture is where science meets art.
I shared with him some of the Disney horticulture “magic” and things I learned while part of Disney horticulture which if you read on, I will share some of that with you. Suffice it to say, a lot of fairies use a lot of pixie dust to make the magic happen! I do my best to keep some of the magic alive in my garden today and I wanted to share two things with you today. First the “magic” of Disney’s horticulture and how you can incorporate that into your garden and then the 2015 EPCOT International Flower and garden Festival!

Disney does a fantastic job with roses! One of my favorite varieties is the Knockout rose. They are so easy to maintain! Shear them to prune, and they just keep re-blooming. Although generous amounts of fertilizer and mulch, I mean pixie dust, also help the process along.
They use a variety of warm and cool season flowers to help keep the park fresh all year long. Although the climate in Florida allows for year-round gardening, they do have a rotation for plant material. Every eight weeks, each bed is replanted with new annuals. There are also four season at Walt Disney World for their beds. At Christmas you notice red poinsettias, and red, pink, and white impatiens. In the spring and fall, those get replaced with red, pink, white, and a little purple pentas and red geraniums, which need deadheading on a frequent basis! In the summer Disney plants a lot of caladium. I mean a LOT! We used the standard colors of reds and pinks, but whites were especially popular under the shade of trees. The contrast created by a bed planted with white caladium and a beautiful magnolia tree with its deep green foliage had a remarkable way of brightening up that space and drawing you in! 

Disney has a different color theme for each country in EPCOT's World Showcase as well. For example, Mexico uses warm colors and a more natural looking landscape. Norway uses pastels and white. China is very formal and has little in the way of annuals. Germany uses reds, Italy uses all colors except yellow. The AA as cast members call it, the American Adventure to guests, use...? Red, white, and blue, you guessed it. France uses pastels, and Canada and UK can use pretty much any color in the rainbow. Consider a theme for your garden that consists of two or three colors and stick with that. Too many colors can overwhelm the eye and take away from the dramatic effect of the garden. Use different textures instead if you want to create something more visually appealing.

Disney is also known for the use of hanging baskets and pots. Italy, for example, has pots. Every park has hanging baskets. When you plant your pots or baskets, plant your outside row of flowers on a 45 degree angle facing you, that creates a fuller look as baskets and pots fill in and the flowers face you rather than face the sky where you will be less able to see the full effect of the color.

Where you and I have limited financial resources, we know we are going to buy a plant for an entire season. Knowing it may grow to 12 inches, you and I might buy a four pack and plant them on 6 inch centers, throw some fertilizer down, apply a good three inches of mulch and call it good. Disney knows the plants are not going to be in the landscape long enough to mature. Instead they buy a larger plant and plant the plants closer together, apply some fertilizer, mulch, and viola, an instantly mature full looking landscape. This approach works well for the art form that is Disney’s horticulture but for the average landscape is both economically and environmentally irresponsible.  

Of course, Disney is rumored to have no weeds. I can assure you, this is absolutely positively 100% true! I know, because I pulled every weed you could find. A little Disney secret, err, magic is proper mulching techniques greatly helped keep weeds down! I’d like to point out; Disney used ORGANIC mulch- pine needles, chipped wood, etc. No rock mulch to be found on Disney property. Why? Because of how bad it is for the environment, and it simply is not “show quality.”

Elsa works her magic to create the effect of frozen fractals (flowers) all around.

So now that you know some of the magic, what about the EPCOT Flower and Garden Festival? I spent some time walking around EPCOT. It’s a sight to behold as EPCOT is filled with millions of blooms and over 100 topiaries! This year the theme was "EPCOT Fresh" and they incorporated edibles into the landscape.

The flower fields are replaced completely during the show. During the year, this entire berm is Bermuda grass. The sod is cut and removed for the Flower and Garden Festival. New sod is laid after the show. During the show 4 full time cast members spend their early mornings weeding and deadheading the flow field which contains nearly 700,000 annual plants.

EPCOT always looks beautiful, but after experiencing the Flower and Garden Festival, EPCOT feels insipid when the festival ends and the park’s landscapes return to normal. What makes the festival so grand isn’t just the colorful flowers planted in beds throughout Future World around the World Showcase, but also the topiary creations which bring your favorite Disney Characters to life (mine is Peter Pan) as well as the tours, horticulture classes, and presentations offered by many knowledgeable and well respected individuals in the hort industry. 

Over in Garden Town gardening programs are offered every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 11-4. Programs feature information provided from Disney Gardeners, Great American Gardeners, and to the credit of Disney, University of Florida Master Gardeners and Extension Agents from Land Grant Universities who provide research based gardening solutions for your life in the form of latest trends in home gardening, techniques to help you be a successful gardener, as well as some of the Disney Horticulture secrets with some very fun and creative hands on activities that will engage gardeners of all ages. 

Disney also has an Ask an Expert station for you to stop and get one on one advice about your garden for those in Extension!

Other things that make this festival so wonderful is that is really truly is designed for all ages. Young children can enjoy the butterfly garden, the cactus garden that recreates radiator springs, mini gardens all which tell a story, and other kid-friendly activities all throughout EPCOT. Adults; as well as all the learning, there is music from many artists, including the Village People. (Tony, that’s for you.) Cooking and food demonstrations on how to cook what you grow. (Seriously, what do I do with this Kohlrabi? Nasturtium- do you eat that? Why is there and orchid flower on my plate?) As well as many amazing foods and drinks to try, all inspired by the fruits, flowers, and veggies you grow in the garden!

Annuals may be incorporated into topiaries to provide more colorful flowing and dimension in the characters. Annuals are changed out on some topiaries. Cool season annuals such as Violas and Pansies are used and changed out for impatiens and other plants that hold up to the florida heat later in the season.

Disney has moved away from the old hedged style topiaries due to the high level of maintenance.

Finneas and Ferb receives full sun all day long, where other topiaries may receive mostly shade. Watering and replacement of plant material are dependent upon environmental factors.

Simba is actually made of painted reindeer moss while the feet and arms of Rafiki are made of palm boots.
A steel frame provides the support for Snow White's ficus dress.

Each topiary has it's own irrigation system built into the frame. Chicken wire issued to provide support for sphagnum peat moss and the plugs of creeping figs. Total growing on time is approximately two months. Occasionally, figs need to be trimmed or replugged.
Buzz Lightyear is staged in front on Mission Space, adding to the theme and atmosphere of the attraction.
Tinker bell adds to the Butterfly House.
A favorite among fairies and children alike!

Additional annuals are added to the Canada Pavilion
 to simulate Butchardt Garden.
I have to pay homage to my 'friend' Peter Pan.
Look up to find him though.
Disney has learned the art of directing your eye in different directions
and optical illusion.
Disney uses flowers around the topiaries
to continue
to paint a scene.
In this case, blue salvia helps to create
the illusion that
Tic-Toc Croc is in water.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Frozen III: The Cold Snap Story Continues….

By Jane Rozum, CSU Extension Horticulture Agent, Douglas County
When I last wrote a blog article about last November’s Cold Snap on December 23, 2014 here, I talked about the needle damage on evergreens along Colorado’s Front Range. I related the story of our mild October weather and how temperatures went from the 50° F range to well below zero (-15°F in some areas) in 24 hours or less. Conifers hadn’t acclimated to our cold winter temperatures and many needles froze and turned brown. Some trees had significant needle browning; many young trees were lost. Colorado State Specialist Tamla Blunt authored a bulletin which described the reasons why evergreens received damage.

Since December, Extension professionals in the Front Range and Eastern Plains have been fielding calls from homeowners worried about their evergreens. Some questions have touched upon whether deciduous trees and shrubs were affected by the Cold Snap. Now that spring is here, we are seeing what appears to be Cold Snap damage to these landscape plants.
Thanks to CSU’s PestServe list, green industry and Extension professionals as well as Colorado Master Gardeners and citizens have been chronicling the damage which has been observed on deciduous landscape plants. So far, the list of plants which demonstrate cold damage dieback, sometimes to the ground, is rather lengthy:
Fruit trees such as Apple, Pear, Cherry
Pyrus calleryana- Callery Pear – less blooms
Prunus cerisifera ‘Newport’
Salix sp., especially Globe Willow
Conifers: Juniper, Arborvitae (in addition to previously observed damage to pines, spruces, etc)

Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus cultivars)
Cotoneaster species
Rose – cane dieback to ground
Euonymus fortunei cultivars
Boxwood (Buxus sp.), burned or damaged
Privet (Ligustrum)
Buckthorn (Rhamnus sp.)
Barberry (Berberis cultivars)
Daphne (Carol Mackie cultivar)
Hibiscus syriacus
Silver Lace Vine Polygonum aubertii  

As more trees and shrubs leaf out, we may continue to see damage from landscape plants that were affected by the November Cold Snap. What have you noticed in your landscape? Please feel free to comment on whether you have seen significant dieback on woody and other landscape plants this year.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Aeration Done Right

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, horticulture agent in Larimer County

I'm first to admit that when I give advice it's a "do as I say, not as I do" recommendation. When it comes to lawn aeration (AKA core cultivation), Extension recommends that you aerate at least once a year, twice if you can afford it. The last time I aerated was...well...a few years ago. I did it myself (with the help of burly men to help lift the machine) and it was, quite frankly, an effort!
Aeration is the best!
Last week I was driving by a park in Windsor and saw someone aerating the turf. I was impressed by how great of a job he was doing, so I stopped to chat. It turns out that Mike McFadden, of Barefoot Farms in Windsor, is passionate about doing aeration correctly. After talking for a few minutes, I hired him to aerate my under-aerated turf the following day.

What Mike probably didn't realize is that I'd be photographing him. So thanks to Mike for his willingness to be the subject of this blog.
Mike McFadden of Barefoot Farms
Why should you aerate? For many reasons, including better water infiltration to the turf root system, to combat thatch build-up, to allow for better oxygen exchange for roots and to add organic matter to your lawn and soil. And it helps alleviate soil compaction.

Steps to aerating correctly:

1. Water your lawn a couple days prior to the aeration event. In order to pull deep plugs, the lawn should have good moisture. If the lawn is too dry, the plugs pulled will be very short or the machine will simply bounce around the surface.

2. Before you start aeration, mark your sprinkler heads. I used somewhat unorthodox markers, simply because I didn't have flags. But it's very easy to hit a sprinkler head with the machine. The aeration machine generally has one speed--fast--and they aren't very easy to maneuver.
The tree stump and mini American flag mark sprinkler heads.
The design of my irrigation system is another story...
3. The goal of aeration is to "Swiss cheese" the lawn--make as many aeration holes as possible. Up, down, back and forth, horizontally, vertically, diagonally. Try to get the holes on 2" centers. If the plugs are 2-3" deep, this is also excellent. This is where commercial aeration may fall short if they only make one pass. One pass tends to result in very few holes several inches apart and quite frankly, does nothing to improve the health of your turf, except that it makes you feel good that you aerated. Following aeration, your lawn should look beat up and ugly. This will pass in time. In the long run, aeration is incredibly beneficial. (As a note, Mike made four passes on my lawn.)
A lovely little plug. Not too much thatch and 2-3" long.
4.  If you rent equipment, you have the luxury of being able to control how many passes you make. Honestly, you can't make too many holes. Ok, well if your lawn is mud following aeration, maybe you made a few too many. But really--the more holes the better!
Lots and lots and lots and lots of holes is key.
5. Leave the cores on the lawn once you're finished. If you can't stand the sight of them, then rake them up and put them in your compost pile--don't throw them away. They are full of wonderful organic matter. If you leave the cores, they will break down with a few mowings.

6. Need to seed or fertilize? It's the P-E-R-F-E-C-T time following aeration. The holes you just created are ideal "germination chambers" for seed. Seed that drops into the holes will stay moist, have good contact with soil and be protected during germination. Fertilizer will also reach turf roots better following aeration (be sure to water it in). On a side note, if you applied crabgrass preventer to your lawn this spring, wait until August to seed--the crabgrass preventer will kill seedling grass.

It took Mike about 35 minutes to aerate my 3,000 square foot lawn. And I was thrilled with the result. He did mention that I have a much heavier thatch layer in my front yard (oops) and that doing it again in fall would be wise. So if it's been a few years, do your lawn a favor and aerate! It does the lawn good.
The chickens loved the freshly disturbed earth and had a heyday with worm bits. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Avoiding Abiotic Afflictions …in the spring garden

Posted by: Mary Small, Jefferson County Extension Plant Diagnostic Clinic

Abiotic plant problems are brought on by environmental or cultural conditions. They often mimic disease, but are not caused by any living organism. They plague many gardens and landscapes, even, unfortunately, at the very beginning of the growing season.

Planting seeds is a favorite springtime rite. Once in the soil, they’re watered and watched for what seems like an interminable amount of time. And then….nothing…or spotty germination. More time goes by…hmmm….what’s a gardener to do?

Check the age of the seed.  All seeds don’t remain viable for the same amount of time. For example, corn stays viable for around two years, yet tomato seed is viable for five years. If you are using older seed, you may first want to conduct a “rag doll” test. Take 10 seeds, place down the middle of a paper towel, roll it up and fold the sides under, so seeds don’t drop out. Moisten the paper towel and place in a sealed plastic bag on the kitchen counter. Once the time to germinate has elapsed (found  on the bag of seed), open everything up and see how many seeds have germinated. If 7 out of 10 did, then you have 70% germination. You may want to sow seeds a little thicker to make up for the reduced germination rate.
"Rag doll" test for seed germination
Some seeds produce weak seedlings and may need some help emerging through the soil especially if it crusts over easily.  Carrots are a good  example of this. This year, try planting the seeds as usual, then cover the row with a piece of burlap or a board. This helps prevent soil crusting and allows the tender seedlings to germinate. When it gets close to the expected germination date, lift the covering and start checking the progress. Once most of the seedlings are up, you can remove the covering.
Weak seedlings are the reason radishes are often interplanted with carrots.  The stronger radish seedlings germinate first, making way for the carrots. They’re harvested in about 30 days and create even more room for the developing carrot roots, although thinning may still be needed.
Carrot seedlings planted with burlap
Beans sometimes have germination problems.  If placed in soil that’s too cool, they don’t sprout and  may rot. Even when beans germinate, I often get questions about how to control  “the birds ( squirrels, rabbits or any other critter observed near the garden) that are eating the leaves off the bean plants”. This problem is not caused by animals. It’s called “baldheading” and is caused by mechanical injury to the growing point of the seedling. Crusty soils and damaged seeds are the likely culprits here.
"Baldheading" of beans caused by mechanical injury to seedlings
Sweet corn planted in too cool soil, like beans, does not germinate (or germinate well) and may rot. Supersweet varieties actually need soil temperatures of at least 60 degrees F to germinate.

To check soil temperature, insert a soil thermometer several inches deep into the soil. The soil must be the desired temperature for several days before planting. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Bee's Knees!

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

April showers bring May flowers!!  A good saying to keep in mind while our gorgeous weather turns to snow and rain. As the spring season progresses, everything from plants to insects to gardeners begin to wake up and get ready for the season ahead. As plants start to bloom, they of course need to be pollinated to complete their life cycle and who better to do that job, than bees?! Certainly there are many, many other animal and insect species out there that pollinate, but bees are my favorite. 

leaf cutter bee
As you’re out tending your plants and garden beds, take a moment to notice the visitors that are starting to appear at the flowers. Chances are, many of them are our native bees. Most people are familiar with honey bees which hail from Europe, but few realize that we have over 900 species native to Colorado alone! There are more than 3,500 species in the U.S., and there are reports of 20,000 + species world wide. 

Perdita on the head of a Xylocopa. Photo by Stephen Buchmann.
Some bits about our native bees… First off, the majority of them do not sting! There are so many different species that often they are overlooked and/or people just don’t realize they are bees. One that is easy to overlook is the smallest bee species known, the Perdita minima. This little bee is less than 2mm (<0.08 inches). The largest bee found in the US is the carpenter bee which is in the genus Xylocopa; they range in size from 1/2-1 inch. 

ground nesting bee
underground nests
Most of our native bees are solitary, as opposed to the social honey bee who form large colonies of 40,000 + individual bees. You can find evidence of the native bee's nests in dead wood, pithy stems, pre-existing cavities, and in many cases, underground. Knowing this makes it easy to create habitat for these little friends of the garden. Beyond just providing food (flowers for nectar (carbs) and pollen (protein)) you can provide shelter and water which completes the habitat and will make your garden more attractive for them to move in and stay awhile. 

old stumps in the garden provide habitat for native bees

For the cavity nesters you can include a snag (old wood stump or branch) in your landscape or you can build a bee condo (see UC Berkley Urban Bee Lab for more info). For the ground nesters you can leave areas of sunny, undisturbed ground that will be inviting for them to create their little underground tunnels and nests. Keep an eye out for small holes in your soil, it might be the entrance to a bee’s home!!

hives at the WFC
Honey bees are also a lot of fun. I started beekeeping when I lived in Austin, TX. My first hive was a transplant from an established hive that had taken up residence in a duck nesting box. My mentor and I suited up and carefully moved the hive out of the box and into a Langstroth hive (typical white boxes that you think of). It was quite an exciting day! I was able to keep my hives at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center , where I worked at the time. Those were some happy bees!

honey bee
Here at the Boulder County Extension Office we are working to increase pollinator habitat by planting more gardens and we will be starting up honey bee hives again this spring. Because they are such great pollinators, bees are naturally a gardener’s friend. Without their help, and the help of other beneficial insects, your vegetable garden wouldn't be able produce the bounty that feeds you and your family, and your flower gardens would be less productive. As gardeners who depend on the ecosystem service they provide (pollination), we need to raise our awareness, and help to conserve and create habitat whenever possible. They are our modest companions in the gardens, and when provided with a little food and shelter, they will work tirelessly with us, and our gardens will be all the better for it!

sweat bee

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Crabapple Blooms – A Welcome Sign of Spring

Posted by: James E. Klett, Extension Specialist

Crabapples are popular ornamental trees in Colorado especially along the Front Range of Colorado and their flowering announces the arrival of spring.

Their blossoms appear generally from April to May depending on variety but this season they have appeared one to three weeks earlier than normal. Crabapple flowers may be single (5 petal), semi-double (6 to 10 petals) or double (more than 10 petals). Single-flowered crabapple varieties tend to bloom earlier and currently many are in full bloom. Semi-double and double flowered varieties tend to bloom later in the spring season. Actual dates of blossoming can vary each year depending on weather conditions and this spring they seem to be earlier than normal. Also, the length of blooming period can range from 1 to 2 weeks depending on variety and weather conditions. Cooler weather will prolong their bloom period.

Crabapple flower buds are even attractive before they are fully open, developing color as they swell – called the balloon or bud stage. The balloon may be a different color than the later mature flowers.

Crabapple flowers are a welcome sign of spring and this year’s flower abundance along the Front Range seems exceptionally outstanding.

Colorado State University has been evaluating crabapple varieties for over 30 years for ornamental features and for disease and pest resistance.
A few single flowered forms that have done exceptionally well in our trials include:
  • Cardinal – with pink to white single flowers with reddish new leaves and good disease resistance
  •  Spring Snow – single white very early fragrant flowers with bright green leaves and very popular because it produces no fruit
  •  Royal Raindrops – with single pink to red flowers with cutleaf purple leaves turning orange red in fall
  •  Sentinel – red balloon to white early flowers with upright growth habit and good for narrower spaces

Semi Double Types:
  • Coral burst – has pink to rose semi-double flowers and available in both tree or shrub form and an excellent patio plant
Double Type:
  • Brandywine – has double pink rose flowers that are later to bloom, but has many larger fruits and exfoliating bark. It is one of the better double flowered forms.

By choosing to plant some crabapples of all three types you can enjoy the flowers of crabapples over almost a six to eight week period of time given favorable weather conditions.