CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Native Tree Squirrels

This blog's emphasis is on the two native tree squirrels you might encounter while hiking through the Colorado forests:  Abert’s and pine squirrels.

(Abert's Squirrel)
The Abert’s squirrel (Sciurus aberti) is associated almost solely within the montane (8,000-10,000 foot) forest ecosystem.  They are quite distinct because of their tufted, or tasseled, ears and black coat.  Interestingly, their ear tufts diminish in the spring and summer months, while their fur color may range from the typical black, to gray.

Abert’s squirrels make their home among mature ponderosa pine, using taste to select trees with the most nutritional value.  They rely on the ponderosa for all aspects of their life including food, nesting, and cover. They are not known to defend territories, perhaps because their home range is quite large, averaging nearly 20 acres. 

Their preferred food is the seeds of the ponderosa cone although their summer diet contains a high proportion of fungi.  You might observe them holding the cone like an ear of corn, slowly rotating it as they remove the cone scales to unveil the meaty seeds.  Unlike many of their relatives, Abert’s squirrels do not store large caches of food in their nest, although they occasionally bury a cone.

(Pine Squirrel)
 The pine squirrel, red squirrel, or chickaree (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) is a solitary squirrel that is easily identified as they scold intruders by growling, screeching, or chirping.  These squirrels are much more aggressive than the Abert’s squirrels and will jealously defend their territories.  Their home range is restricted to mature pine, Douglas-fir, fir, spruce, and mixed wood riparian forests. They generally have multiple nests in tree hollows, or underground tunnels, and numerous food caches.  

The pine squirrel is the smallest tree squirrel in Colorado with an average length of 12 to 13 ½ inches.  Its coloration is rust red to grayish red, and its tail is outlined with a broad, black band edged with white.  Most of the squirrels I’ve encountered in the Pikes Peak region tend towards the gray coloration.

(Pine Squirrel Midden)
Generally, pine squirrels have a favorite feeding tree where they eat and drop leftover cone pieces. The shredded cones at the base of its feeding tree may accumulate into huge piles, called middens, which may be 30 feet across and up to two feet deep. Very large middens are evidence that several generations of squirrels have used the same feeding tree.  Territories are usually centered around middens because they contain one to two years of cone resources.  Because of this, their territory averages approximately two acres, depending on food availability. 

(Ponderosa Pine tips sheared off)
If you have hiked in the montane ecosystem during the winter months, you may have noticed needled tips littering the ground under select ponderosa pines.  This is the work of both species as they feed on the shoots, slicing completely through the branch.  The mule deer enjoy this delicacy and tend to clean up the mess left behind.

Neither squirrel hibernates, but if the weather is very cold, they will stay in their nest until the temperatures warm up.

Leaves are Finally Falling

Tony Koski
Extension Turf Specialist

Tree leaves can be easily mulched into your lawn using
your lawnmower

Although some trees (cottonwoods, aspen) have been losing leaves all summer and fall (due to disease), others are just beginning to let go this past week. As my co-hortie Alison wrote about last year at this time, the easiest way of dealing with all of those leaves is to mow/mulch them into the lawn. Go here to read about all of the reasons why this is a good idea – and the many ways in which tree leaves benefit your lawn.

A question we often get regarding mowing leaves into the lawn is: What if I have too many leaves and the lawn gets buried by mowed, shredded leaves? If you mow the leaves frequently enough, this is unlikely to happen. But sometimes there are so many leaves that you can’t see the grass anymore because the mulched leaves are so deep. Or maybe you are just super fastidious about your lawn and you don’t want to mulch the leaves? What can be done with those piles and bags of leaves?

Chopped leaves make
a nice mulch for veggies
First, don’t just ignore them and leave them all winter. When leaves get wet from snow and rain, they can form a thick, slippery, mushy layer on the lawn surface. This can smother and kill the lawn and matted leaves create conditions ideal for the development of snow mold diseases. And don’t just bag them up and leave them on the curb for trash pick-up. Tree leaves can be used in your landscape in other ways if you have too many – or don’t want to mow them into the lawn.

Use chopped tree leaves for
mulch in your flowerbeds
Leaves are excellent for mulching flowerbeds, around trees and shrubs, and in vegetable gardens. Bag the leaves using your mower’s bagging attachment. This will shred the leaves so that they are easier to use for mulch and are less likely to blow away. The leaves will decompose, adding organic matter to your garden soil. Earthworms are voracious consumers of tree leaves, hastening their decomposition in gardens and when returned to the lawn.

Shredded tree leaves can quickly be turned into an
excellent compost
Tree leaves can be easily and quickly composted – either through traditional composting or by vermicomposting. Just remember that tree leaves are “browns” and must be balanced with an appropriate amount of “greens” for optimal composting to take place.

If you just don’t like using leaves in your landscape or have too many to handle, give them to a friend who is into composting or take them to a yard waste recycling facility. Don’t send them to the landfill.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Get Your Craft On--Hortie Style

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

I recently took this incredible class at the Gardens on Spring Creek. It was taught by volunteer extraordinaire, Nancy Frank, who teaches a number of classes, including one on making holiday wreaths (yep, I'm signed up for that one too).

This class focused on taking miniature pumpkins (or gourds if you prefer) and gluing succulents on them. Now, before you think this is plant torture, look at the result! They are soooooooo cute!
Pumpkin centerpiece with succulents.
The succulents, in fact, will root and grow. Nancy said she had one in her home for nine months before she tossed it. If you keep yours through the winter, she suggested cutting off the top of the pumpkin and planting it outside (when the weather allows) or planting it in a container. Since we used hardy succulents, primarily sedum and hens and chicks, they will do really well in Colorado gardens (and elsewhere).

Here's the thing--you do nothing to the pumpkin except snap off the stem. You don't cut the pumpkin or carve it. You don't fill it with potting media. The pumpkin stays intact. Interested in doing one for yourself? Try it. It's a lot of fun. In fact, I just taught eight of my co-workers to make one and they couldn't get enough.

Here's what you need:

  • Hot glue gun (low temp preferred to reduce burning of your fingers)
  • Spray adhesive (found at a craft store or office supply store)
  • Miniature pumpkins or gourds
  • Sheet moss (found at any craft store; I bought a bag that made at least 12 for $3.99)
  • Succulents, such as sedum or hen and chicks
  • Adornments, such as berries (real or fake), acorns, ornamental grass plumes, seedheads, etc.

Here's how to make it:

Plug in your hot glue gun and let it warm up. Wash your pumpkin if it has any soil or grime. Dry it thoroughly. Then snap off the stem. A well-cured pumpkin will have a straw brown stem and the flesh cannot be punctured by a fingernail. Take a small portion of moss and fit it to the size of your pumpkin. The moss should not be too thick, nor should it cover the entire pumpkin.
Snap off that stem! And size your moss.
Next, spritz a little spray adhesive on top of the pumpkin. It doesn't need to be a lot. Make sure you do this step in a protected area or you'll have spray glue everywhere. Then position the moss on top of the glue. Pull off any moss bits that went astray or that you don't like.
Spray adhesive...just one of many you can buy.
Moss stuck to the spray adhesive.
Now you design. Plan your pumpkin like a landscape and try to pair larger, more visible items, in groups of 3 (or 6 or 9). You can place some of your succulents and other adornments prior to gluing them into place. But trust yourself. It's going to look amazing. I promise. Also think about layering the items...make it three dimensional. For the most part, you will use smaller items and just the tips of succulents. When you're ready to glue, squirt a bit of the hot glue on the end of the succulent and then push it onto the moss. Repeat this until you're happy!
A little glue will do 'ya!

Hen and chicks are fantastic for this project.
The tip of Angelina sedum. Do you know about Angelina? She's amazing. Lime green all summer and then turns orange when cold  temperatures set in. She's awesome and I can't say enough good things. Every garden needs Angelina.
Keep filling in with sedum and other succulents.
Once you get the majority of your succulents added, then pop in a bit of color with berries, acorns, seedpods, ornamental grass plumes...whatever moves you.
Micaela used alder cones, the arils from euonymus, ornamental grass plumes and succulents. Can we say Ah-Maze-Ing? Amazing!
To care for your masterpiece you will spritz it with three squirts of water ONCE A WEEK. Do not put it under a faucet, as the area where the stem was can hold water, which will lead to rot. For those of you who like to water, restrain yourself. Succulents need very little supplemental irrigation to survive. In a few weeks you should see new roots. Place your pumpkin in a bright area, out of direct sunlight. If you put it on a wood surface, consider placing it on a plate. That's it. Super easy and so much fun. I'll leave you with some additional photos to inspire you further.
Various types of sedum, penstemon seedpods and eucalyptus seeds.

How great is the pumpkin coloration on the left?! This one has bittersweet berries.
The one on the right is a cute white pumpkin with sedum with red tips.

This one has acorns and poppy seedpods.

The gourd that looks like a shoe! The stem really makes this one, I think. I made this one and it's my favorite of those I created. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What Happens When You Give Four Horticulturists a Camera

Posted by: Eric Hammond, Adams County Extension

A couple of months ago Dr. Alison O'Connor (CSU Extension), Dr. Tony Koski (CSU Extension), Tyler Mason (Horticulturist at Cheyenne Botanic Gardens) and I got together to film some short videos on tree selection and care.   This was a really interesting experiment in what happens when you give four people with no training in videography a camera.

Our fearless (and only slightly bossy) director.
Notice the use of cutting edge equipment like tripods.

By the end of the day we had purposely bare-rooted container nursery stock, did our best to kill a callery pear with a string trimmer and learned the importance of team work when lifting heavy objects.
We learned a lot and all things considered, I think it turned out pretty well.  Here is the final product (eventually we may break it into shorter videos):

A special thanks to Adams County Colorado Master Gardener Anthony Pressgrove who volunteered his time to edit the video for us.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

2015 “Best Of” Annuals from the CSU Flower Trial Garden

Posted by Jim Klett, CSU Extension Specialist

The Results of the 2015 “Best Of” Annual Flower Trials have been chosen.  In 2015 we had approximately 800 different varieties of annual flowers entered into the trials from 31 companies world-wide.  Entries were judged on August 3rd followed by a September 11th second evaluation of top ranked annuals in the different classes.  To be included in the “Best Of” category we had to have at least 10 entries in those specific genera.  Following are the winners in the “Best of Show”, “Best New Variety”, “Best Novelty” and some other genera that performed exceptionally well.  A complete listing of all the winners is at

You will definitely want to grow and utilize a lot of these in your 2016 landscapes.

Best of Show - Sun New Guinea Impatiens  ‘Sunpatiens® Spreading Tropical Orange’ from Sakata
This winner was near perfection in every way.  Electric orange flowers were vivid and had a great contrast against the beautiful foliage.   Plants maintained a high level of flower power all season.  It had impressive vigor while the growth habit was very uniform.  Foliage was very attractive all by itself with a dark green edge and bright yellow center.  Plants grew well in full sun but are also adaptable to light shade. 
Sunpatiens Spreading Tropical Orange
Gorgeous orange flowers!
Best Novelty – Celosia ‘Dragon's Breath’ from Sakata
This plant garnered a lot of praise even before it started flowering for its beautiful burgundy colored foliage.  Flowers formed late but were definitely worth the wait as they had a two-toned combination of burgundy and hints of fluorescent purple that seemed to glow.   The vigorous plants had good garden presence all season.   It would make a great textural accent for combination plantings.    
Dragon's Breath celosia

 Best New Variety - Lobularia ‘Raspberry Stream’ from Danziger
Extreme flower power was combined with an intense raspberry color for an impressive flower display.   The unique raspberry flower color was also noted for a nice cream colored eye for a slight two-toned effect which was very attractive.  Overall it had a very uniform growth habit which held its shape and the plants maintained a clean appearance all season.   Bees loved it and it also had a nice, sweet fragrance.    
Raspberry Stream alyssum

Perfectly mounded and smells great too!
Best Angelonia - ‘Archangel Dark Rose’ from Ball FloraPlant
This plant makes a great item for the landscape with dense, compact branching and abundant flowering.  Flowers had large florets and a unique “antique rose” color that produced a lot of flower power. 
Archangel Dark Rose Angelonia
Best Begonia semperflorens - 'Whopper Red Green Leaf' from Ball Ingenuity
Beauty is combined with adaptability which makes this plant a great choice for many different landscape situations.  Plants were vigorous with vibrant green foliage and had abundant red flowers which created a stunning image of vitality.  Sun and shade tolerant, these plants are also adaptable for high altitude gardens and a good shade alternative to the recent downy mildew problem on seed impatiens.    
Whopper Red Green Leaf begonia

Clear red flowers
Best Calibrachoa - ‘Superbells® Evening Star’ from Proven Winners

Plants were grown in a container and besides being a massive ball of flowers and color it was also noted for unique flower color that would shimmer in the sunlight.  Flower color seemed to be made up of three different shades of purple with a dark eye.  The growth habit was very uniform and the flowers also were noted for opening up earlier in the day than many other Calibrachoa.
Superbells Evening Star calibrachoa

Superbells Evening Star flowers

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Sense of Place: Deep in the Heart of Texas!

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

You know the tune… “The stars at night! Are big and bright! (clap, clap, clap, clap) Deep in the heart of Texas!” I recently got to spend a fun filled week deep in the heart of the Texas hill country in Austin, TX. I lived in Austin for about 5 years and worked at the Lady Bird JohnsonWildflower Center. The Wildflower Center is where I cut my teeth on native plants and fell in love with the great state of TX (which, by the way, being a native Coloradoan I never thought I would say or write!!). 

As a horticulturist and general plant nerd, whenever I return to a place that I love, the emotions I feel are in large part a reaction to the plant palette. They provide a sense of place for me like nothing else. Different areas of the county have different styles of architecture, the people have different accents and they serve up unique and different foods, but what really speaks to me, are the plants. Just like Mrs. Johnson said in her soft, east Texas drawl, “Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent.” 

Mrs. Johnson in a field of Coreopsis and Gaillardia
(image from:
One of the more notable times this happened for me, I was traveling to Austin again, but this time by train. When you travel by train you get to see the landscape in a whole new way; far from the typical highway route of a road trip and often relatively undisturbed. As the train rumbled down the track, I remember getting closer and closer to town. I started seeing the familiar faces of mustang grape climbing up the trees, huge clumps of pink evening primrose and Englemann's daisy - all natives of the area. 

On this most recent trip, I decided to document a few of my old favorites from the Lone Star State to share with y'all (had to sneak that in!). All of the photos were taken at the Wildflower Center and I'll provide a link with each plant to the Center's awesome Native Plant Information Network database (NPIN). It's a great resource!!

Front entrance to the WFC gardens: sandstone walkway and limestone cistern -- typical building materials found in the hill country. Plants include Agave, Gregg's dahlia, cedar elm, Mexican feather grass, mountain laurel.

Ball moss!! Tillandsia recurvata I love this little plant.
It is a member of the bromeliad family and is found hanging
in the canopy of trees (epiphytic, not parasitic).

Gregg's mist flower, Conoclinium greggii.
Queen butterflies love this plant. In the height of
the season the plants will be dripping with them.
Lace cactus, Echinocereus reichenbachii. Has a beautiful rose-pink
flower. I brought one of these with me when we moved to AZ and
then to CO. It's hanging on, but not super happy. I'll have to work on that!
This is a two-fer: Rock rose, Pavonia lasiopetala and Autumn sage, Salvia greggii The sage is found in landscapes
throughout the Southwest, but you can go on hikes in the hill
country of Texas and see it growing in its native habitat!
Big Muhly, Muhlenbergia lindheimeri. The majestic grass is endemic
to the Edwards Plateau. It has a beautiful fine foliage and gorgeous
seed heads in later summer/early fall. 
Texas live oak, Quercus fusiformis. What can I say about the live oak?
Magnificent, huge branches, interesting form. This species doesn't
get as big as the ones found in the deep south, Quercus virginiana, but
they are still fabulous! 

Scarlet leather flower, Clematis texensis. A hardy and 

drought tolerant clematis that is native only to the
southeastern Edwards Plateau in Texas. 

Texas spiny lizard, Sceloporus olivaceus.
The native wildlife enjoys the plants too!!

I'll leave it at those for now, although my list and photos go on and on. Do any of you experience the same thing? When you travel back to the place you grew up or raised your family or maybe a spot you vacation regularly, do the plants speak to you in their regional accent reminding you of where in the country or on the planet you are?? I hope so, because for me the connection to the place makes the visit a much richer experience.