CO-Horts Blog

Monday, February 27, 2017

Celebrate Mardi Gras in Your Garden!

Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County Extension

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras a.k.a. Fat Tuesday a.k.a. (loosely) the last day to get all of your partying out before entering into a period of fasting and good behavior for Lent. Most people think of New Orleans and Bourbon Street, beads and King Cake, but for the purposes of this blog I thought, how can I relate Mardi Gras to plants? Well, as it turns out I couldn’t find any rich tradition of people partying in their gardens or eating particular plants for the celebration. 

However, what I did come across is that horticulturists and plant breeders LOVE the idea of a non-stop party in the garden when it comes to plant cultivars!! There are many, many plants with the cultivar ‘Mardi Gras’ and I have to think this is because of their fun, festival of colors or their non-stop blooming (partying).

Below is a list of plants with snippets of their descriptions that can bring a non-stop party to your garden (please note, not all of these will do well in CO gardens, but I thought would be fun to see the wide array of plants that use the name ‘Mardi Gras’). 

Laissez les bon temps rouler!!!

Floribunda Rose ‘Mardi Gras’

True to its type, this wonderful new Floribunda will bloom non-stop through the season. The strong color is a mix between yellow, orange and pink which produces a spectacular display that is not affected by the heat. Perfect as a specimen, in combination plantings or as a compact hedge.

Variegated Abelia ‘Mardi Gras’
© Richie Steffen / Great Plant Picks

Synonyms: Abelia grandiflora ‘Mardi Gras’
A festival of color splashes across the foliage of this compact semi-evergreen shrub. In spring, the new growth is tipped in bright pink which softens to a sparkling mound of creamy white and green leaves. In early summer, lightly fragrant shell pink flowers appear; these flowers dot the shrub extending its bloom time from summer until early fall. Unlike many of the other variegated abelias, ‘Mardi Gras’ is a strong grower and is not prone to losing its variegation over time.

Sneezeweed ‘Mardi Gras’

Mardis Gras produces a riot of multicolored blooms for six to eight weeks in summer. Yellow petals, lavishly splashed with orange red, form wildly patterned stiff skirts around deep brown, mounded center cones. The 'tie-dyed' flowers are 1½ to 2 inches in diameter. Gorgeous in a pot!

Dahila Mardi Gras Mix
No description associated, but clearly these dahlias are down to party!!

Mardi Gras Rhododendron

One of the first yak hybrids, this is still an outstanding variety. Bright reddish-pink buds emerge in early to mid-May and open to trusses of 3" wide white flowers with pink highlights and blooms young. It has dark green leaves with tan indumentum underneath. A compact grower that is also sun tolerant. The flowers appear in clusters about 5 inches in diameter, quite large given the compact size of this shrub. Expect them to reach their glory in late spring in most climates. All we can say is:It is an unforgettable show.

Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras’

Aeonium ‘Mardi Gras’ (USPP 21407) displays a riot of colors, much like the festival for which it was named.  Rosettes of lemon yellow leaves with emerald green mid stripes blush ruby rose’ especially when grown in bright light or when temperatures are cooler.  Aeoniums are winter/spring growers, and will appreciate a cooler, shady area during their dormancy in the hot summer.

Radish Mix, Mardi Gras

Festive mix of colors and flavors.
Full Description
We've blended a vibrant mix of spicy purple roots, mild yellow and white varieties, and earthy flavored black radishes for a festive and beautiful addition to salads and party trays. Sow every two weeks for bountiful harvests all season.

Coleus 'Mardi Gras'
Great plants for your flower bed. Shade or sun these plants will stand out... Beautiful foliage makes a great addition to your gardens Most times you can install coleus in full sun areas... In the south they may burn a little but in the north they will prosper great!!! 

Amaranth 'Mardi Gras Parade'

The lustrous clover-like blooms of Mardi Gras Parade shine like party decorations on multi-stemmed, upright 1 - 1½' plants. These many petaled, almost iridescent globe-shaped blossoms will light up the garden at midsummer when other summer annuals begin to fade. We've selected a stunning blend of glowing, vibrant red, rich apricot orange, and luminous carmine. Butterflies flock to their shimmery blooms that are easily dried as everlastings for bright pleasure year round.

Sarracenia 'MARDI GRAS' (no photo available, but this is carnivorous pitcher plant!)
Sarracenia 'Mardi Gras' produces maroon and white pitchers with flared mouths and wide, frilly lids.  They have a vigorous growth habit and flower readily.

Hemerocallis ‘Mardi Grass Parade’ (no photo available)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Exercise Your Green Thumb

Posted by:  Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension

Mother nature is really testing gardeners this winter by teasing us with this long stretch of summer-like weather, making it hard to resist the temptation of going out in the yard and planting something!  

One way to exercise your green thumb in the off season is by propagating house plants. Last month, Sherie Caffey wrote a fantastic blog titled Adventure in Propagation about this very subject!  So for this blog, I thought I would expand on this to show you a few additional species that are easy to propagate at home with no addition of rooting hormone or special conditions...just using a slightly different planting system.

When I moved to Colorado last summer, I decided that I would donate my houseplants to the university nearby rather than try to transport them across the country in a moving truck. I am glad that they are being put to good use to educate others, however, once here, I began to miss some of my old plants. So when I went back on a trip last fall, I just had to drop by the university's greenhouse and take a few cuttings to bring back to Colorado. I decided to choose the easiest species to propagate so that they would successfully make the journey back. 

Tropical Plant Collection at Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky.

 After taking the cuttings I put them in a simple plastic bag with a small amount of water, just like Sherie recommends in her blog. I left them in the bag for about a week with the top slightly open and making sure they didn't dry out.

My new collection includes the following easy-to-propagate houseplants:

Purple Wandering Jew (Zebrina pendula)
Golden Pothos (Epipremnum aureum)
Ghost Plant (Graptopetalum paraguayense)
Baby Rubber Plant (Peperomia obtusifolia). 
Jade Tree (Crassula argentea)

The Wandering Jew is a vigorous grower, so I decided to go straight into a larger container, knowing that in a few months the three cuttings will have filled that container and be ready for an even bigger one. They are super easy and will grow rapidly, so give these guys their own space.

After just a week in the plastic bag with water, the roots were already very visible!

I stripped off the bottom two sets of leaves and planted them into their new pot.

Everything else went into the same shallow terracotta dish, but any shallow container with drainage will do. Because these are easy to propagate species, you don’t have to worry about using a special propagation mix.

I spaced the various cuttings in the dish (including the pieces that had fallen off the succulent cuttings), planted them and watered them well. Using what I had on hand, I found a couple of plastic spoons to use as a support for my homemade humidity tent that was made from self-sealing plastic wrap. I placed the dish in indirect sunlight by placing them on my kitchen counter near the window. Do not put them in direct sunlight as it will bake the poor cuttings!


I kept the potting mix moist, watering every other day, and then came the hard part...waiting! After about 10 weeks, I checked the cuttings to make sure they had rooted by lightly pulling up on the plant to see if there was resistance…and there was!  

Look at those roots!


The Jade Plant decided that it would be super slow, so I dug it out with a decent amount of potting mix around the cutting and transferred that to a new container.

Everything was potted into individual containers using the same type of standard potting mix followed by a good watering. Voila! All done!

Front row (left to right): Golden Pothos, Ghost Plant, Jade Plant. Back row (left to right): Baby Rubber Plant and Variegated Baby Rubber Plant

By the way, that Wandering Jew that I had potted up back in October...well let's just say it's pretty happy!

A week later, and all of my new houseplants are enjoying their new home in my kitchen window.

 So, give it a try! Propagating these houseplants was pretty simple and definitely fun!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Brrr its cold out! Downright frigid!

Photo Credit:  Linda Langelo , CSU Horticulture Program Associate
Yucca in Phillips County Extension Event Plant Select Garden

In these below freezing temperatures, you and I can put another layer of clothing on and be fine.  How do our favorite perennial plants survive?  Throw on another layer of mulch or evergreen boughs?  The answer is not necessarily all that needs to happen for the plant's survival.

Their best defense against the cold is mainly an accumulation of solutes such as sucrose and other organic compounds such as proline in plant cells.  These solutes have the amazing ability to depress the freezing point of water from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  More importantly, proline is an amino acid.  It plays a critical role during a period when a plant starts to undergo stress.  Extreme cold or extreme heat both stress plants.  Other environmental stresses are salinity, water deficit, toxic metal ion concentration and UV radiation. 

But as far as secreting solutes to help mitigate cold- how cool is that?  Wouldn't that be great if we could do that especially in winter to ward off needing to wear a coat?  I know.  That is a bit of a reach.

So now that we know that plants have this amazing ability to secrete within their cell wall proteins that prevent ice crystals from forming on the outside of their cells.  There still is more to this story.

Dehydrins in the cell cytoplasm bind water molecules.  This changes the structure of water in the cell thereby stabilizing the cell wall membranes.  Even more cool!  Lastly, lipids also play a role in protecting plant cells.

Lipids include among many substances in plants fatty acids, fats, oils, steroids, waxes, cutin and so on.  Lipids are insoluble in water and serve many functions including storage of metabolic energy, protection against dehydration and pathogens, the carrying of electrons, and the absorption of light.

During periods when the winter temperatures begin to go to freezing or below, the plants alter lipid composition to protect the cellular membranes.  Plants have it all figured out!

Photo credit:  Linda Langelo,  Phillips County Extension Event Center Plant Select Garden

Now that we figured out how plants do it, let's take a look at using mulch or a layer of evergreen boughs as plant protection.  Mulch does act like a blanket on top of your soil.  It mitigates the freezing and thawing of the soil.  So yes, mulch does help keep the soil temperatures more even if done at the proper time - before the soil freezes. 

I discovered a few years ago, (even though I know intellectually) that mulch of any kind can mitigate the soil temperatures during winter.  When putting up Christmas lights, in particular, lighted candy canes, the soil was not frozen below a thin layer of leaves and it was at night with the air temperature in the low 20's.  The leaves were about a quarter of an inch thick.  It was so cool.  Nature in action.  Where the ground was bare, the soil was frozen.  The leaves slowed the soil's dissipating heat which accumulates all summer long.

The evergreen boughs can help with our winter's desiccating winds.  The boughs also shade the plants from early spring sun. 

With hardy plants such as perennials, their ability to come through winter is in their genes.  However, it does not hurt to have extra protection around the root zone of your perennials.  If they are semi-evergreen or evergreen a little protection over the plants with evergreen boughs helps them anyway.  It becomes very impractical and cumbersome if the evergreens you are attempting to protect are 4 feet tall.  Then you have to ask yourself why you purchased a plant that was not rated for the zone you live in.  Remember it's in their genes.  If it is not in their genes to survive in your zone, then expect to treat it as an annual.  

Thursday, February 9, 2017

How about a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T?

Posted by Kelley Rawlsky, Broomfield County Extension

Hello! My name is Kelley and I’m a biophiliac. A what?  A biophiliac.  Okay, so technically that may or may not be a real word.  E.O. Wilson, Professor Emeritus at Harvard University, coined the term “biophilia” in his book titled the same in 1984.  There are many definitions of biophilia, but the most simple is “a love of all living things”.  Dr. Wilson’s theory is, in part, that humans are genetically predisposed to derive psychological and physiological benefits from nature. In his book, Biophilia, he states “to the degree that we come to understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them, and on ourselves”. 

Now that we’ve been properly introduced, I want to share some amazing qualities our phytocompanions possess and why I think they deserve a little more R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  Not sure phytocompanions is in the dictionary either, but my blog today, so my rules? 

Did you hear the one about the plant that walked over to the water spigot?  Of course not, because plants aren’t able to go get a drink of water, no matter how many days or weeks we’ve neglected them.  Plants also can’t move underneath the patio during a hailstorm. Nor can they relocate themselves three feet west of the Autumn Blaze maple you planted five years ago that is now blocking their sunlight.

Plants are constantly interacting and adapting to their environments.  Here are a few cool examples.

Heliotropism, also known as solar-tracking, is the ability for a plant to follow the direction of the sun on a daily basis.  Sunflowers are probably the most famous example of heliotropism.  Some studies suggest sunflowers and other solar-tracking plants do this to increase light absorption, photosynthetic efficiency, and increase crop production. The snow buttercup, Ranunculus adoneus, is a subalpine and alpine plant native to our higher elevations here in Colorado.  Heliotropism in the snow buttercup is believed to occur, at least partly, to create warmth in the interior of the flower to make a warm, cozy landing zone for pollinators.

Phototropism is the reason everyone who has houseplants near windows has to rotate them, or at least should rotate them, on a regular basis.  The plants start growing towards the light, right? 

Gravitropism is another interesting plant response.  Have you ever planted a tomato in a trench on its side?  Isn’t it amazing how the plant “knows” that the shoot growth needs to go upwards to photosynthesize and the roots need to grow down for water and mineral uptake?

What about that cute, little Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia, you planted eight years ago that started climbing on everything in sight and is now trying to take over your house?  This is an example of thigmotropism -- not the attempted coup d’etat part, but the fact that a plant can respond to touch or contact in its environment. Yes, a plant has a “sense of touch”, of sorts. 

As you have likely discovered by now, tropism in horticulture generally refers to the response of a plant to an environmental stimulus. It’s when a plant moves towards or away from a stimulus, which could be something like touch, gravity, light or even weather events.

Plant growth regulators such as auxin are responsible for this behavior.  For example with phototropism, auxins will accumulate on the side of the stem or leaf that is away from the light source to encourage elongation.  The plant then grows more on the dark side than the side receiving the light.  This redirects the stem or leaf towards the light source.

So, back to Dr. Wilson and his biophilia theory -- the extent that we understand other organisms, we will place a greater value on them.  I hope you have a better appreciation and understanding for just a few of the many, many ways our phytofriends are constantly interacting with their sometimes very challenging environments.  Maybe the next time you turn that hanging ivy plant away from the window or you drive past a field of sunflowers, you will take a moment to observe and ponder the amazing world of plants.

Suggested reading:  Monica Gagliano’s research on mimosa plants where the plants appeared to have “learned” new behaviors. She is a Research Associate Professor at the University of Western Australia.

Monday, February 6, 2017

In dark of winter, I’m dreaming about seasons, possibilities ahead

 Posted by: Darrin Parmenter, La Plata County Extension

Author and philosopher Albert Camus once wrote “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” As a philosopher, I can only assume that there were multiple layers to that line and perhaps he was only speaking personally. But many of us can relate, especially now when the cold and wetness and darkness have crept into our bones. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the snow. After living in Florida for 4 winters I have grown to appreciate seasonality. I enjoy seeing my breath, feeling the hairs on my beard freeze. I enjoy how the snow sticks to the bare branches of trees and shrubs, and the sound it makes when it hits the metal roof. 

As a gardener, or one who teaches gardening, I look forward to educating myself on what I can do different, or what I hope to do when I grow up, or what the farm or yard or garden will look like next year. I grow envious of my farmer friends as they look forward to the next growing season and what they will plant and the difference they will make - only to know that come September, they will all be tired and sore, calloused and windblown, and they will occasionally look up to the sky and say “Please, just two more weeks without a freeze” or “Please freeze come tonight because I am so sick of finding squash among the prickly leaves.”

I smile watching my class of bushy-tailed Master Gardener students hungry for information. Then, after one 8 hour class, watching their eyes glaze over as the amount of facts, hints, photos and bulleted PowerPoint items race through their brain.  

Winter gives me time to think about where my yard, or property, will be in 5 years. Currently, the small back yard is consumed by shade, and Asher and Bella and Elena and Grey (and London, the dog) as they need the space to let loose of energy and practice baseball and soccer (and stick fetching). It leads Beth and me to ask “what if?” – What if we moved out of town and had acreage to grow and escape and raise animals other than those that go to school. We like living where we can bike to school, work or our favorite park or restaurant. But to have a large garden, or a greenhouse, or chickens, or a horse…that would be awesome. But I’m pretty sure those are somewhat restrictive in the Historic District of downtown Durango. Then there’s life: practices and lessons, full-time jobs and traffic, and hours in cars, carting kids back and forth. 

Yet the openness. There is a garden that will feed us for months and months and there is a space where we can teach the kids about life, and death. A space where I can escape to the seat of a tractor and Beth escape to the shade of the cottonwood tree.

So this winter, I will wait patiently. I will wait for spring blossoms and the greening of grass; I will wait for warm summer mornings, baseball under the lights, and alpine wildflowers; I will wait for the smell of fall and the changing of the colors. And then I will once again wait for the killing frosts and first snows and a cold, dark drive home.