CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pumpkins Galore and More

Pumpkin- Johnny's Seed Picture

Assorted Gourds- Johhny's Seed picture
This is the time of year when we think of adding colorful vegetables to our table.  Among these are ornamental gourds.  They come in all shapes and sizes with some as small as an egg and others the size of a duck but shaped like a swan.  Some are warty.  Some are smooth.  Some are striped while others are speckled.  Many can be dried and used to make crafts or items like birdhouses.  If you like them and have the room, try planting a mixture of gourds next year after the soil temperatures reach 60 degrees F.

Then there are pumpkins.  My son, a CSU sophomore, contacted me to ask if he carved a pumpkin, could he still use it to make pumpkin pie.  The answer was NO on two counts.  The first no is due to food safety conditions.  The second no is because there are different varieties of pumpkins for different uses.  Some pumpkins are breed for eating where others are breed to be a Jack-o-lantern and others like gourds just for ornamental reasons.  Here is a Ram-o-lantern.  If you have a Facebook account, search for Colostate how to carve a ram-o-lantern and there is a nice YouTube. 

CSU Ram-o-Lantern
Today’s pumpkin no longer comes in a smooth textured orange package.  Colors range from white, to pink to orange to red.  There are striped, speckled and warty pumpkins.  Members of the squash family easily cross giving us all kinds of squash shapes and sizes.  And did you know that there are male and female flowers?  We also have a native squash bee that will visit and pollinate your plants.
As with any crop, buy certified disease free seed.   There are many Colorado seed companies with great seed or national seed companies.  Or you can save some seed from your healthy plants but what you get may be a cross (hybrid).  Rotate your crops so the pumpkins and gourds (all squash) are only in the same place every 4 years and don’t plant too early in cold soils.  It potentially can setback the plants for the whole season.
Common pumpkin problems include powdery mildew, squash bugs and critters like deer that like to eat them.  Here is a fact sheet:

Pink Porceline Doll Pumpkin-
The main pumpkin season is October and November.  Support the pumpkin farmers by using them for cooking throughout the winter. From pumpkin bread, rolls, soup, eggnog to coffee, there are lots of pumpkin recipes out there.  I always heard to eat all the colors so pumpkins have orange covered.
Pumpkin Pie from GardenPress

Happy Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Give Pumpkins a try.  

Susan Carter is the CSU Extension Horticulture Agent for the Tri River Area.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

U.S. Customs and Border Protection: Keeping Us Safe

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

You're probably thinking how does Customs and Border Protection have anything to do with horticulture and why am I blogging about it? But let me tell you--it has A LOT to do with keeping agriculture (and horticulture) safe with the millions of international passengers that fly every year and all of the shipments our ports receive with merchandise.
Agricultural Specialist with Custom and Border Protection in Laredo, Texas (
Last week I had the absolute pleasure to hear JoAnn Winks, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Agent speak at the Larimer County Extension Office. Officer Winks is one of the 60,000 employees that make up one of the largest law enforcement agencies worldwide. Her role is to help safeguard America's borders and ports, specifically at Denver International Airport. With the help of her trusty beagle, Bryce, she searches passenger luggage for items that cannot come into the United States--certain meat and animal products, soil and plants, fresh fruit and vegetables, etc. Having these products enter the United States can mean new animal and plant diseases for our landscapes, crops and livestock. Remember how emerald ash borer came to the U.S.? Through Detroit in packing material.

From the CBP website, "The men and women of CBP are responsible for enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations. On a typical day, CBP welcomes nearly one million visitors, screens more than 67,000 cargo containers, arrests more than 1,100 individuals, and seizes nearly 6 tons of illicit drugs. Annually, CBP facilitates an average of more than $3 trillion in legitimate trade while enforcing U.S. trade laws."
Chimex pork bologna from Mexico is often smuggled into the United States (in many ways) (
Every day, Officer Winks estimates that she seizes 50-60 items from passengers entering the United States via Denver. It should be noted that these are illegal entries--many products can legally enter the country with proper licensing and certification.

Luggage search at an airport (
The Beagle Brigade is incredibly helpful in helping keep America safe--Winks says Bryce is 96% accurate in finding illicit products--and these sniffing hounds work in all the major ports of the United States. The beagles receive extensive training (just two weeks, believe it or not!) and are rewarded, over and over and over again, with treats. The beagles used are all rescue dogs and retire at the age of nine, when they become adopted by loving families. As a side note, Winks adopted her working beagle following retirement and she said it was a bit of an adjustment when he came home--he kept sniffing the (legal) apples and oranges on her kitchen counter!
Murray the beagle (
For nearly two hours, Officer Winks kept us engaged (and laughing) with tales of what she and co-workers have found trying to cross into the United States--sought-after Mexican bologna (Mexico has a swine disease that is not found in the United States), an entire pig's head (and feet), soil samples, shredded pork stuffed in tea bags, "pork paper" and more. Her lessons for us at the end of the day: Always declare what you bring back to the United States. Many products are legal, but you do not want that beagle to sit by your luggage. 
Gadget, part of the CBP Beagle Brigade (photo from
With Officer Winks and the thousands of others at the various ports in the United States, we can be grateful for the work she's doing, along with Bryce. Just think--these small hounds might prevent the next big insect or disease from entering the United States. Thank you CBP and the Beagle Brigade!

Friday, October 20, 2017

Heavy Equipment Diagnostics

Posted by: Curtis Utley, Jefferson County Extension

Last month I was asked to visit a property to give my professional opinion as to why a specific Vanderwolf’s pyramidal limber pine decided to just up and die. A curious problem to be sure. As the story goes, the tree started to look a little off the 3rd week of July and by the 3rd week of August all the needles turned completely brown but, the branches remained limber. When I got to the site I noticed that the ground was nice and moist, possibly a little too wet but not so wet to cause oxygen starvation in one tree and not the others. I forgot to mention, the dead tree was one of a group of 6 or 7 Vanderwolf’s all planted in the same area roughly 12 years ago.
Stem elongation without full needle expansion "Pushed and Puked"
Next, I began to evaluate the twig growth increments and inspect the condition of the newest growth. What I found was a common problem I see in trees that don’t know they're dead yet, I affectionately describe this condition as “pushed and puked”. By this I mean the tree broke bud in the spring normally and the new growth expanded for a short time then ran out of water resources to maintain that new growth. Because the new growth is soft and succulent it is the first tissue to desiccate and turn brown and sure enough, the land manager mentioned that there were many dead branch tips in early July.
Another view of the arrested development
My conclusion was one that all too often I must utter, “Well it’s probably a root problem. For some reason, this tree is no longer able to move water out of the soil through the vascular system up the trunk and out to the needles.” It is so frustrating when I can't give people a definitive answer. The land manager really wanted a more solid answer as well and told me he would have to remove the tree anyway so if I was willing to come back on Thursday he would pull the tree out of the ground. Really? “Yea, I have equipment.” “Okay I’ll be back Thursday”
I show up on Thursday and the land manager drives up on the lawn with this huge loader. I ask him why on earth do you have such a big loader? (You see most landscape contractors use small, light maneuverable skid-steer loaders which are handy and have a million different attachments to do all kinds of different jobs.) His answer “We do snow removal here too.” Of course. I assumed he was going to dig up the tree but that was silly; to dig up the tree would have wrecked a whole lot of irrigation and nobody in their right mind would want to make more work for themselves. Instead, he wrapped a chain around the trunk and attached the end to the hook on the bucket and carefully pulled the tree out of the ground.
Check out the video:

The tree popped out of the ground like plucking a mushroom from the lawn and we had our answer, circling roots, the result of a missed step on planting day. 
Circling roots left in the ground after tree removal.

Constricted trunk, note the lack of  scaffold roots.
As a tree is transplanted the planting team should try to cut all visible circling roots or better yet, as our very own Alison O’Conner determined during her Ph.D. research, cutting the entire outer inch of the rootball off corrects all circling root problems. I call it a “root reboot” Check out Alison’s blog article:
Even Horties Make Mistakes: Tree Planting posted on Monday, August 5, 2013 for more great information about circling roots.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Pack Rat (woodrat) Issues as Winter Nears

By Mark J. Platten
CSU Extension Director, Teller County, Colorado

After several conversations relating to woodrats (also known as pack rats, or trade rats) over the past few weeks, I thought it would be a good focus for a blog article.  There are six species of woodrats in Colorado, with desert woodrats (12 inches long, 4 ½ ounces) the smallest, and the bushy-tailed woodrat of mountain talus slides (to over 16 inches long and 11 ounces) being the largest. 
Courtesy of Terrell P. Salmon and
W. Paul Gorenzel
 As the name implies, they have a tendency to pack away small objects such as jewelry, utensils, can tabs, and other items.  If a woodrat finds something desirable, they will drop what they are currently carrying, and "trade" it for the new item. They are particularly fond of shiny objects, leading to tales of rats swapping jewelry for a stone. 

Color differs from gray (gray woodrat) to blackish brown (Mexican woodrat), to rich reddish tan (bushy-tailed woodrat), with most having white, to grayish, bellies.

Bushy-tailed woodrat Photo by Thomas Haney
The cold and snow may drive them from their more exposed homes, to under our porches, abandoned vehicles, or in sparsely used cabins and campers.  Obviously this can lead to damage and nuisance issues.   

The breeding period occurs from January to August, peaking between March and June. Generally they have one litter per year, although two have been observed in longer periods of warmth. Litter size ranging from 1 to 6, with an average of four.

Woodrats are primarily nocturnal and are most active during the half hour after sunset and at dawn, year round. Shelter and topography are important determinants of habitat suitability. The availability of rock shelters may be a more important than the associated plant communities.  Hollow trees, logs, dwarf mistletoe brooms, and coarse woody debris may also be used for denning, foraging, and shelter.  And, as previously mentioned, human structures and vehicles may be used as well. 

Photograph by Kennan Ward/Corbis
Woodrats are herbivores with a broad, flexible diet including cones and needles of coniferous trees, berries, leaves, shrubs, forbs, and mushrooms during our wet years.

They are classified as nongame animals in Colorado, which means they are protected from harassment, killing, or possession except when they are creating a nuisance or creating property damage.

Woodrats may transmit certain diseases, including Colorado Tick Fever, but are rarely, if ever, associated with plague or Hantavirus. Dead or dying woodrats should not be handled.

Damage Prevention and Control Methods
Since they are agile climbers, all entrances to buildings, including those at the attic level, must be closed.  Also check for openings in attic vents, broken roof shingles, or other gaps next to the eaves. No hole larger than 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) should be left unsealed. As long as you’re in the process of preventing rodents from entering, why not prepare for potential wildfires and ensure the screens are no larger than 1/16 inch in size?     

Anticoagulants (blood thinners)
Anticoagulants are effective for woodrat control and are especially suited for use around structures because of their low hazard to pets and children. Most baits formulated for rats and house mice give effective woodrat control. Finely ground, or meal-type, anticoagulant baits are recommended. Since woodrats have a tendency to pack away items, pellet bait should be avoided because it will be stored at the nest site.

Anticoagulants are usually put out in bait boxes, but woodrats tend to fill boxes with sticks and other debris. Therefore, use open bait containers. Bait exposed in this manner must be placed so non-target species, pets, and children do not have ready access to it. Access to the bait by pets can be minimized by inverting a wooden crate over the bait tray. Baiting sites should be located near existing woodrat runways, feeding sites, or nests.

The majority of woodrat problems in structures can be dealt with by using traps because they show little fear of new objects in their environment. The standard rat snap trap is quite effective. Trap bait should be wedged into, or tied, to the treadle. Good baits include nut meats, bacon rind, peanut butter and oatmeal, prunes, raisins and other dried fruit, and biscuits.

Cage traps for woodrats are against Department of Parks and Wildlife regulations.  Also, many studies have shown that animals released into new areas often die from exposure, predation, or competition with resident animals. 

References: University of California, Dept. of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology, Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife, Montana Field Guide, and USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station.