CO-Horts Blog

Monday, January 30, 2017

Adventure in Propagation

Posted by Sherie Caffey, CSU Extension-Pueblo County Horticulture Coordinator

Mother Fittonia
I’ve been into trying new things in the garden for most of my adult life, but one thing I had yet to experiment with is propagating house plants. I saw my perfect opportunity to give it a whirl when our office manager was trimming her Fittonia this Winter. I snagged two tip cuttings from her, did some quick research, and away I went on my adventure in propagation.

The ideal medium to use when propagating your houseplants is sand, vermiculite, perlite, or peat moss. I had some seed starting soil on hand, so I went with that, it was an adventure, after all. The tip cuttings I started with included the apex of the plant and two nodes. They were about 4 inch segments. 

I used small paper cups to start the cuttings. It is important to moisten your media before planting your cuttings. It was especially important for me as my medium had been under the sink in my office for who knows how long! After thoroughly wetting the medium, I buried the bottom inch or so of the cuttings in the medium, and firmed it so the cutting would stand up straight.  

Since new cutting do not yet have a root system, it is important to maintain very high humidity while they are in the process of rooting. To accomplish this, I placed a gallon sized plastic zipper bag over the plants. I blew air into the bags to puff them up, and I left a little space between the bottom of the bag and the plate the cups were sitting on to let a little air in. I misted them well with some room temperature water, which created a mini greenhouse environment for my new babies.

After a week, I started to introduce the plants to more air by using a hole punch to make a new set of holes every couple of days. It usually takes Fittonia about 2 weeks to produce roots. Once there is a one inch root the plants can be transplanted into larger pots. At the two week mark I transplanted them into 6-inch plastic pots. It was clear after a day that they were not ready to be out of the zipper bag greenhouse, so I kept the bags on for a while longer. I took the bags off during the work day for increasing amounts of time to try and wean the plants off of them.

By four weeks the plants were doing well without the bags for the whole work day, so I left them off for good. It has been just short of two months now and they are growing very well. Fittonia likes it humid, and I am starting to notice the leaves feeling a little dry. To remedy this, I will try putting the pots in trays filled with gravel, and water. It is important that the water is lower than the level of the gravel so your pot is not sitting in water constantly.

All in all, my plants are still alive so I am considering my adventure in propagation a successful one. Propagating your house plants is a fun and thrifty way to fill your home and office with lots of plants, I encourage you to have your own adventure in propagation!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Alternative Shrubs

Posted by James E. Klett,

Professor and Extension Landscape Horticulturist, Colorado State University

Planning to do some landscape renovation during 2017?  Possibly you may want to remove some overgrown shrubs or some that lack good ornamental features in many different seasons.  Now in mid-winter is a great time to do some research on some alternative woody plants that may give beauty to your landscape for many years in the future.

Two plants you may want to consider for early to mid-spring flower color could include Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry Dogwood) and Malus ‘Coralcole’ (Coralburst® Crabapple).  Cornelian Cherry Dogwood can be grown as a small tree or large shrub, reaching 12-15 feet in height.  The yellow flowers in March are a first sign of spring.  It is pH adaptable and has attractive summer foliage with prominent veination.  The red fruit (a drupe) is produced in July to August but is often sparse due to early flowering and spring frosts.  It prefers some additional moisture and adapts to part-shade and is cold hardy to USDA hardiness Zone 4.  

Cornus mas (Cornelian Cherry Dogwood)

For a little later spring flower color you may want to consider Malus ‘Coralcole (Coralburst® Crabapple).  This clone of crabapple is available as a low graft, which is shrub-like or on a 4 foot graft (small tree).  The rose-pink buds becoming pink flowers give a “two tone” appearance.  The tree has a rounded habit that gets to about 12 feet tall to 12-15 feet wide.  This clone has good disease resistance and prefers a sunny location and likes some additional moisture.  It develops very few fruits which makes it a good patio tree.  It is cold hardy to USDA Hardiness Zone 4-7.

Malus ‘Coralcole (Coralburst® Crabapple)

Another late spring early summer shrub that one might consider is Buddleia alternifolia ‘Argentea’ (Silver Fountain Butterfly Bush).  The fountain-like growth habit with silver grey leaves and lilac-purple flowers in May to June makes this an outstanding large shrub.  The plant blooms on previous season’s growth, so prune after blooming.  It prefers a well drained soil and sunny location and is more xeric.  It is cold hardy to USDA hardiness Zones 5-7. 

Buddleia alternifolia ‘Argentea’ (Silver Fountain Butterfly Bush)
For a little later blooming larger multi-stem shrub maturing to about 15-20 feet one could consider Syringa pekinensis (Pekin Lilac).  This lilac has an upright arcing habit which can get more open with age.  It has showy white-yellowish flowers in May into June and adaptable to our alkaline clay soils.  The brown bark exfoliates and flakes as sheets off adding winter interest.  It prefers a sunny location and more xeric once established.  It is cold hardy to USDA hardiness zone 4-7.

Syringa pekinensis (Pekin Lilac) and exfoliating bark.

These are just 4 shrubs one may want to consider when renovating a landscape or planting a new one in the Spring of 2017.  For more information on these four plants, you can go to

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Four native plants for winter interest

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

It’s January, and the winter is still stretched out in front of us. It’s the time of year when gardeners start to wilt (improved only by the arrival of garden catalogs and the prospect of starting seeds.)
If you want to brighten your winter outlook, consider planting some plants that provide winter interest.  Here are four native plants that shine in the winter:

The first is Redtwig (Red Osier) Dogwood (Cornus sericea).  Plant this one where you can see the red branches stand out against the snow (there is also a yellowtwig dogwood, which can make a nice companion).  Maintain a regular pruning program to remove the older branches, since they tend to lose their brilliant coloration with age.  This plant does not limit its charms to the winter – it has sprays of white flowers in the spring, white berries that birds like in the later summer, and a nice red fall color.  At lower elevations, it prefers a little extra water.

Redtwig dogwood (and its companion, the yellowtwig dogwood) - photo courtesy Iowa State Extension

  Next is Rabbitbrush (Chrysothamna/Ericameria spp).  This shrub is variable in height and in foliage color, but the winter seedheads look wonderful in slanting winter light.  This shrub is also a magnet for butterflies when it blooms in the late summer to early fall.

Rabbitbrush's seed heads glow in late winter light
Lower down to the ground, and best appreciated when there is no snow cover, we have creeping Mahonia (Mahonia repens) and Sulfur flower (Eriogonum umbellatum). 

Creeping Mahonia is a subshrub with holly-like leaves that turn a burnished red in the winter (and admittedly, sometimes winter burn if in full sun).  The leaves can be used for holiday decorations in place of holly, which does not do as well in Colorado.  In the spring, it bursts with fragrant yellow flowers that attract pollinators, and then later in the season, it produces edible (but not all that tasty) blue berries.
Creeping mahonia's leaves turn a burnished red all winter

Sulphur flower is a mat-forming perennial that is very drought tolerant and makes a great ground cover. In the winter, the leaves turn a russet red.  Bonus blooms of yellow-green (or dare I say, sulfur-colored?) flowers attract pollinators in the spring.
The reddish leaves of Sulphur flower warm the winter

Monday, January 16, 2017

Alexa...Water the Lawn!

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

Alexa has been handy for getting the latest
weather and for listening to music. She will
even tell you a joke when asked!
Many of you own – or have heard about – Alexa: the voice and brains behind the Amazon Echo Dot. In case you aren’t familiar, the Echo Dot is a hands-free, voice-controlled device that uses Amazons’s cloud-based Alexa Voice service to play your favorite music, tell you what’s on your calendar for the day, read the news, tell you jokes, turn on/off or dim lights, lock your doors, turn the thermostat up or down, etc. Alexa becomes “smarter” the more you use the system – by better understanding your voice and learning your personal preferences (for example, whether you are a Ram or Buffs fan).

Of course, all of this (the running your home part) requires that your household be equipped with WIFI that is constantly on and that you have “smart devices” that can interact with and understand Alexa’s commands. For example, the popular Nest thermostats and Philips LED Hue smart lighting systems can be controlled simply by asking Alexa to turn up the heat or dim the lights. While Alexa herself is relatively inexpensive ($50), the smart devices with which she can interact can be a bit pricey.

I have a new Alexa in my office. Some would argue that she is the smartest person to ever occupy that space. I’ve had my Dot for about a week now, and so far have only used Alexa to tell me what’s on my calendar for the day or week, what the temperature is, to play some music, and what the traffic might be like if I’m driving to Denver - all very handy and a fun way to get that information. I don’t have any smart devices in my office for her to interact with, so can’t speak to her effectiveness there. Sadly, she still can’t tell me who is winning the latest golf tournament or who the top-ranked golfer in the world is (her response “Hmmm, I didn’t understand the question I heard”). Maybe, some day, as she gets smarter?

The Rachio phone app will
allow you to control your
irrigation system from anywhere
using you Android or IOS phone.
Intrigued about any horticultural uses for Alexa, I did some research on applications Alexa might have for the home gardener. I discovered an excellent, reasonably priced irrigation controller that is designed to interact with Alexa: the Rachio smart irrigation controller. If the kids want to go out to play or if a sudden rainstorm occurs and the lawn is being watered, you can simply ask Alexa to turn off the irrigation. Amazing and fun and cool!

More amazing, however, than its ability to interact with Alexa is just how “smart” this Rachio irrigation control system appears to be! It can easily replace most existing home controllers (8 or 16 stations), can be controlled using IOS or Android phone apps, and can be made even “smarter” by installing a wireless rain sensor device to turn it off when it rains and soil moisture sensors to run each station or hydrozone. While I don’t have personal experience with the Rachio system, the fact that it has been tested and certified by the EPA WaterSense and Irrigation Association SWAT (Smart Water Application Technology) programs attests to both its effectiveness and ease of use. You can find them online (Amazon, Rachio) or at Home Depot stores for about $200-250 (for 8 or 16 station controllers).

I will be getting one of these to test this year. Since I don’t have an irrigation system myself, I’m thinking that fellow blogger Alison, her Alexa, and her nice lawn would be a great test site? Alexa…ask Alison if this is a good idea? (Alison: "Yes, this is a great idea if it doesn't cost me anything!").

LG's prototype robotic mower (Source: CNET)
I can’t find a robotic mower that Alexa can communicate with - yet. But the home appliance and TV giant LG has hinted that it will soon introduce a robotic mower that can take orders from Alexa. I’ll search out other smart landscape gadgets that are Alexa-compatible and write about them – unless Alexa becomes smart enough to blog for herself?

If you Alexa fans out there have discovered horticultural uses for Alexa, let us know about them!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Lasting Legacy of a Garden

Posted by Carol O’Meara, Boulder County Extension

White House Garden 2013
Visiting gardens is a favorite pastime of mine, a way for me to get to know cities and people of places I visit.  I love talking with the gardeners or nosing along overgrown paths.   It doesn’t matter where my rambles take me or why I’m there; whenever I can, I take time to stop and smell the flowers.  These gardens, great and small, have boasted towering topiaries, flowing rivers of bloom, whimsical sculptures, and miniature delights tucked into rocky nooks. 
A few resonated so deeply within me that they help guide my philanthropic self, like the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans or the urban community gardens pocketed about the Big Apple by the New York Restoration Project. 

Chef Sam Kass helped found the
 White House kitchen garden (2013)
And then there is the one that indelibly etched itself upon on my mind and soul:  the White House kitchen garden.  Founded in 2009, its low-sided raised beds have hosted thousands of school children over the years as they visit for planting, harvesting, and cooking lessons.  Bees that work the flowers from the nearby hive are an integral part of the lesson plans given to help connect the kids to their food and our earth. 
That humble, working garden feeds both dignitaries and those in need by producing 2,000 pounds of produce each year from 2,800 square feet; a third of the produce is donated to soup kitchens.  In the upcoming transition, the garden appears to be remaining, thanks to a $2.5 Million gift from the W. Atlee Burpee Company and the Burpee Foundation to the National Park Foundation in October, 2016.  The National Park Service cares for the grounds around the White House, including the kitchen garden.

Beyond serving as a living classroom the White House kitchen garden has served as inspiration to home gardeners across the US; many of us rejoiced when it was installed and the historians among us appreciated the nod to former Presidents and First Ladies cultivating those grounds for food. 
Bill Yosses, former White House Executive Pastry Chef,
harvesting chamomile flowers for the WH Mother's Day Tea, 2013
Gardens – and gardeners – ebb and flow in their interests and it wouldn’t surprise me if the incoming administration were less interested in the garden patch.  After all, gardening isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, given that gardeners are often sweating, grimed with dirt, and wearing mismatched socks.  But perhaps First Lady Michelle Obama could leave a pair of her Gucci gloves for soon-to-be First Lady Melania Trump to pick up and wear should she head out to see what the buzz is about on the South Lawn.

I hope she does.  There, past the surprisingly small Rose Garden, the kitchen garden provides a seating area in its heart, where visitors find a little peace and quiet.  It’s always entertaining to watch bees work the flowers, and scents from herbs wash across you as the breeze shifts.
To its creator, the garden bids farewell.  It will endure, as gardens do when changing hands.  For those of us it inspired to get planting in our own communities, our work is not yet done. 

According to the American Community Gardening Association “community gardening improves people’s quality of life by providing a catalyst for neighborhood and community development, stimulating social interaction, encouraging self-reliance, beautifying neighborhoods, producing nutritious food, reducing family food budgets, conserving resources and creating opportunities for recreation, exercise, therapy and education.”

Get active in your community through gardening programs, to keep the legacy of the White House kitchen garden, and our own gardens, alive. 

Monday, January 9, 2017

Winter snow brings chance to learn

Mesa County Extension Garden
With the weather that has hit Colorado and a good portion of the nation, gardening may be the furthest thing from our mind.  But winter is a good time for preparation and learning.  Many CSU Extension county offices will soon be starting their Colorado Master Gardener classes.  Though it is too late for you to sign up for the course this year as a volunteer (registration starts in October), many counties offer the different topics as single day options.  So if there is a particular topic you want to learn about such as woody plants and pruning, soils, turf and many others, contact your local office to see if they offer the single day option.  My office, Tri River Area which consists of Mesa, Delta, Montrose and Ouray counties, does offer the single day option taught in Grand Junction.  There is a charge for the day.  Contact Susan Honea in the Tri River Area to reserve your spot at 970-244-1841.  Other offices can be found in this link: select the first letter of your county and scroll down to find the county information.

Besides Master Gardener classes, counties offer or collaborate to bring other great programs.  In my area we have the Food, Farm Forum, the Western Colorado Pest Management Workshop, and several insect talks by Whitney Cranshaw, CSU Entomologist as well as a Soil Health Conference. 

We also collaborate with growers and participate in the Western Horticulture Society event in Grand Junction.  This event starts next Monday January 16th, with a class on FSMA (Food Safety Moderization Act) Produce Safety Rule Training at our local Orchard Mesa Research Station.  Call Donna at 970-434-3264 to pay your fee to attend Monday since there will be lots of handouts.  Then Tuesday there is a tour of farms followed Wednesday and Thursday with classes and an expo.  CSU will have a booth in the expo.  The Monday event is also listed on this website.  For more information go to

The following week is Food Farm Forum in Montrose on January 20-21.  This program focuses on sustainable production, marketing and consumption of local food.   There are 20 breakout sessions in this Forum.  Go to  for more information and registration.

❤On Valentine’s Day, February 14th as a reminder to guys out there, we will be hosting two talks by Whitney Cranshaw, CSU Entomologist, at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.  The first is that morning and focuses on landscape insects and is for Colorado Master Gardeners and tree care providers.  The second is in the afternoon and will focus on Household insects and their control.  This second class is for people that sell household pesticides.  Both classes are free but require registration.  Contact our office at 970-244-1834 to register and for specific class location.

The Western Colorado Pest Management Workshop is an opportunity for pesticide applicators to earn CEUs for their licensing and for others to gain knowledge.  This event is will be held at Two Rivers Convention Center in Grand Junction on February 15-16th with many breakout sessions and specific training.  For more information go to or call our office at 970-244-1834.

Western Colorado Soil Health Conference in Delta Colorado will be held February 23 and 24th. This conference is designed for the unique challenges that our region includes and provides a range of topics from the basics to advanced applications.  For more information go to

On the front range, there are also several great conferences to attend.  There is Progreen Expo, The Premier Rocky Mountain Regional Green Industry Conference February 7-10, 2017  in Denver, CO.  Today, January 9th, is the last day for early registration.  I will be speaking as well as many other CSU Horticulture Agents and staff.  Go to for more information and registration.  There are many classes and exhibits all week long.

And as mentioned in a previous CO-Horts Blog, the Second Annual Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference will be held Saturday, February 11 at the Larimer County Fairgrounds (the Ranch) in Loveland.  I attended this last year and it was great.  To register go to


There is the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association 3rd Annual Conference on February 21st.  Register now and join over 300 growers, buyers, input suppliers and ag professionals for this conference.  This conference precedes the Governors Forum on Colorado Agriculture Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at the Renaissance Hotel in Denver.   More details posted as available at

That should give you plenty of options to seek more plant education just in the next two months.  So while it is cold outside, consider attending an event similar to what I have listed within and get your brain prepared for spring.  Keep warm and safe out there.  It’s one big skating rink in Mesa and Delta counties today.

By Susan Carter, CSUE Horticulture Agent, Tri River Area

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Resolution to Return to Greatness...Zucchini-style

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

For three years I was the biggest zucchini champion at the Larimer County Fair (2012-2014). This title comes with a $2 premium and admiration from my chickens, who enjoy eating giant squash.

But in 2015, I was dethroned by Master Gardener Loni...and in 2016, I was again trumped by Master Gardener Tina. Loni was Tina's mentor for her first year in the program...coincidence? I think not.
Loni, on left, giant zucchini champ in 2015; Tina, on right, champ in 2016.
Tina really did grow a monster!
Most people will tell you I'm competitive. They are correct. I love the thrill of the win...and the joy of competition. But it's all in good fun. And growing enormous vegetables puts my horticulture skills to the test. So my resolution for 2017 is to regain the Biggest Zucchini title. I've already started researching and scheming.

Last year I thought I had the competition in the bag. I bought heirloom zucchini seeds, known to grow whopper fruit ('Crostata Romanesco'). These are a marrow type of zucchini. I ran a separate drip line to the plant and caged it in to protect it from nosy beagles. Maybe I started the seeds too early...maybe the soil was too cold when I transplanted...maybe pollination was poor. At any rate, I had puny zukes all of July and as the Fair approached, I started to panic. Fortunately, one fruit started to develop, but it was too little, too late. My zuke weighed in at a paltry five pounds (Tina's was over nine). Fail.

But the great thing about competition is you always learn something. No more fancy cultivars for me...I'm going to stick with the tried and true 'Black Beauty'. The one you see for sale in the grocery stores. The beauty of...ahem...Black Beauty is that she often produces fruit that hide under the leaves. These are the baseball bats you unearth when weeding. And more often than not, they are larger than the one you can visibly see and are grooming for competition. This actually happens with most squash, but it's always fun to find them.
Black Beauty zucchini (photo courtesy of Burpee Seeds;
In my research, THE place to grow giant vegetables is Alaska. Their state fair is chock full of huge vegetables that will boggle the mind. For example, their current green zucchini champion weighed in at 29 pounds and has held the record since 1995. TWENTY NINE POUNDS! Imagine dropping that on your neighbor's doorstep.

Now, Alaska seems like an unlikely place to grow giants. But while they have a short season, they have gobs of daylight for most of the summer. For example, in Barrow, Alaska (the most northern town in the state), you have 80 days of uninterrupted daylight. (Think of all the rounds of golf you could play in a day!) In the southern part of Alaska, you can get 17-19 hours of daylight from May to July.

So I need long days and a good cultivar. I also need to remember to fertilize. Fertilizer is my biggest weakness....I never remember. I also should water more regularly, since growing giant vegetables takes water. I assume I'm like many gardeners...I am gung-ho and excited in May and my enthusiasm wanes by July when it's hot and I just want to observe the garden from my air conditioned house.

In a perfect world, I would install a high tunnel. Or a small greenhouse. But even I have limits. And a budget. Because again...winning only yields $2! I feel like I'm living that book The $64 Tomato.

I'm not going to reveal all my plans, lest another Master Gardener get the giant vegetable bug, but just know...I have plans. And I will once again reign over Larimer County as the Squash Princess. Does anyone have a good zucchini bread recipe?
So long, small zucchini!