CO-Horts Blog

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Turn Your Yard into a Work of Art with Colorful Annuals

Posted by James E. Klett, CSU Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
                As you start to think of your 2018 annual plantings in your yard, flowering annuals allow gardeners to be artists, planning and planting what will develop into a dazzling landscape planting. Yellows, oranges and reds give a feeling of warmth and excitement. Beds or borders of flowers in this color range stand out and provide drama.
'KwikKombos Shooting Star Mix'
                Greens, blues and violets give a feeling of tranquility and coolness; they are perfect to use in close up areas or plantings designed to blend with the surroundings.
                Some color combinations are especially pleasing. Large plantings of one color or shades of one color are popular, as are those using complementary hues of red and green, orange and blue, and yellow and violet. Their combinations should make attractive beds for the entire season.
                Contrast plantings of bright annuals make quite a statement. Some eye-catching examples are a three-tiered plantings of tall African marigolds in the background, medium size orange marigolds in the middle and dwarf red French marigolds in the front; deep orange African marigolds or orange zinnias bordered with dusty miller; or violet blue farinacea salvia bordered with yellow dwarf French marigolds.
'TrixiLiner Old Glory'
                Borders and beds are two of the most common ways to plant annuals. Borders are usually long and narrow, straight or free form plantings. They often have several types of flowers and are used to define or emphasize a walk or garden space.
                Beds are solitary units or islands of flowers arranged in a circular, kidney, rectangular or free form shape. For practical maintenance, flower beds should be no more than five feet wide, to be assessable from both sides.
                Determining which plants to use in borders and beds is a personal decision, but certain principles should be followed. It’s a good idea to combine spiky flowering plants such as stock, angelonia, salvia, snapdragons and plumed celosia with those that have a rounded shape- marigolds, phlox, ageratum, zinnia and geraniums.  
'TrixiLiner Batting Eyes'
                Pay attention to the heights of various plants. With borders, put tall plants in the back and shorter plants toward the front. With an island or bed planting, try to create a pyramid effect with the taller plants in the center and shorter ones around the edges.
                Annuals are also often planted in containers. With this system, it is easy to change color schemes throughout the gardening season. For spring, enjoy pots of pansies, violas and forget-me-nots. When the heat of the summer gets the best of these cool seasonal flowers, you can replace with summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds, zinnias, begonias and geraniums.
'Confetti Garden Fiori Square'
                Now is the time to plan your annual color for 2018 and be bold and experiment with color combinations to create your own landscape pictures this season.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Conservation: Earth Hour

Earth Hour Banner-Photo Credit: Social Media Covers

Imagine turning your lights off for one hour.  And how about the hour after that or for an hour each night or every time you leave a room?  Even more amazing is when 120 million people around the world, turn their lights off to raise awareness about climate change.  For one hour, we are on the same page, but not all at the same time.  It’s the thought that counts toward climate change because it gets everyone thinking deeper. 

On March 24, 2018 at 8:30 P.M. I hope you will join in Earth Hour and turn your lights off for one hour?  For one hour think of the substantial energy reduction not being produced by 120 million people around the world.  The main goal of World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) back in 2007 was for people to show their support for climate change.  It started in Sidney, Australia when 2.2 million people participated in turning their lights off, to raise awareness of climate change.  Since 2007 Earth Hour increased from one city to 88 cities in 2009 and in 2017, 187 countries and territories turned their lights off, including 12,000 landmarks and monuments.  From turning the lights off, to turning an awareness on about climate change and how to better conserve our resources.

At a grassroots level, this is your opportunity as an individual to make a positive impact on the planet we all call Home.  The goal of WWF is to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050.  One small act towards conserving energy every day, makes a big difference to climate change.  According to scientists, we currently have the highest amount of CO2 in the atmosphere in over 800,000 years.  This is driven by the use of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, according to WWF human activity is the main driver of the unprecedented levels of biodiversity loss which impacts our forests, oceans and ecosystems that are the planet’s first line of defense against threats like climate change.  On a positive note, teams in Brazil, Ukraine and Japan are raising awareness about biodiversity and getting public support for action to protect biodiversity. 

In 2017, China, Finland and Colombia used the Earth Hour platform to raise awareness and inspire more people to make sustainable choices.  That alone is positive impact.  From the food you eat, to the clothes you wear, to the car you drive, to the shelter you chose, think about how you can reduce your energy footprint.  Do you carpool to work?  Do you recycle?  Have you stopped using plastic bags and styrofoam cups?  Do you turn the lights out when you leave a room? 

One thing I do is recycle what I can from a fast food restaurant that I frequent. (The restaurant will remain unnamed. They offer healthy food choices there.)  If you save your cup, they give refills.  I not only save on the cost of a refill, but I use the cup over and over. 

Here are some other small things you can do to help make a positive impact on our planet:

1)      Purchase products with a recycled content such as kitchen towels, toilet paper, napkins and handkerchiefs.
2)      Look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) label on timber products such as garden chairs, paper and envelopes. 
3)      Purchase energy-efficient appliances and equipment including office equipment.
4)      Purchase biodegradable cleaning products. 
5)      Purchase cloth bags for groceries.  Less packaging reduces waste in landfills.  This is a reduction of about 10% for each of us and cuts down on methane gas – a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  Of course, buying local and fresh food whenever also helps.
6)      Planting natives is a solution to conserving water, stopping the use of pesticides and fertilizers.  Colorado State University has a program called Native Plant Master® Program.  Visit the website to learn more about it
7)      Pollinator Highway learn more about that at this link: .   Some of you may remember Lady Bird Johnson’s Scenic Byways Initiative were more focused on the Beautification Act in the late 1960’s.  However, it ended up achieving some of the same goals as the Pollinator Highway.  One of those is a reduction in mowing.  Tensions were high back then and her thoughts were along bringing beauty to the highway medians in part to reduce stress.  Wildflowers and the natural world meant so much to her that she started the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas.

These are just a few tips that you can do daily along with improving your landscape.  Go to  I challenge you to join in Earth Hour this year and beyond.  I will, Linda Langelo, CSU Horticulture Program Associate.  

 Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Monday, March 19, 2018

No, it's NOT crabgrass - yet!

Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist

Young cheatgrass growing in a mulched flowerbed this week
in Fort Collins. No,this isn't crabgrass!

It’s that time of the year. People are seeing “different” grasses in their landscapes – and they are usually unattractive. So, of course, it MUST be crabgrass! Here’s the problem: crabgrass is a summer annual weed that won’t be germinating through most of Colorado until sometime in April (at the EARLIEST), and more likely in May. This grass needs soil temperatures to be consistently around 55 F (surface inch) for germination to occur. It’s still a little early and chilly for it to begin growing.

Young cheatgrass will QUICKLY look
like this with a few weeks of warm
So if it’s not crabgrass, what are people seeing? One likely culprit is cheatgrass (aka downy bromegrass – Bromus tectorum). Cheatgrass is a winter annual – meaning that it germinates around here in fall or late winter. The young seedling cheatgrass doesn’t grow much in fall or spring – until we get a stretch of warm days (60s-70s). Warm spring temperatures cause explosive growth, flowering, and then seed production. It’s pretty much at the end of its life by June – when it turns brown, dies, and drops its annoying seeds. The seeds it drops in June will germinate in the fall…and the cycle continues.

Cheatgrass is one of the most troublesome and common weeds throughout the western U.S. It’s another one of those nasty introduced weed species that came to the U.S. sometime in the 1890s and has spread throughout much of the U.S. It has become one of the most important agricultural and rangeland weeds in the West. The rapid, aggressive growth and prodigious seed production enable it to dominate native plants ecosystems – and make it a nuisance in urban landscapes.

The key to managing annual weeds like cheatgrass
is to prevent seed production.
As with all annual weeds, effective management centers on prevention of seed formation. By preventing new seeds, populations of this weed can be effectively eliminated in a few years because its seeds live for only a few years in the soil after falling from the plant (the seeds of some weed species can live for 30-40 years+ in the soil!).

In the flower or vegetable garden, cheatgrass can be easily pulled because it has a very shallow root system when young. Mowing doesn’t control it as the weed will quickly adapt to mowing and form viable seed close to the soil surface. Larger patches can be sprayed with glyphosate (Roundup, Kleenup) on warm days (70 F or greater is best) or one of the many "natural" burndown products (it may take several applications of the "natural" products).

Cheatgrass is easily pulled because
it is shallow-rooted.
As for crabgrass, its time is coming. Now would be a good time to apply a crabgrass preventer in places like Grand Junction and Pueblo; in cooler parts of the state it is OK to go later – but probably no later than April 15th.

We’ve blogged in the past on other grasses that people often call “crabgrass”: quackgrass, bromegrass, tall fescue. Go here to read about other grasses that are mistakenly called crabgrass.

Go here to see what crabgrass really looks like, and for more pics of crabgrass look-alikes.

If cheatgrass matures before you can pull it or
spray it, mow it very short, bag the seeds, and put
in the trash (not your compost pile!)

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Battle of the Mice

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

The mice have invaded Henny Lane (my chicken run).
"Say whaaaaaaat!?" asks Dear Prudence.
Like many of my fellow hortie bloggers (Curtis, Susan and Cassey), I have a backyard chicken flock. Yes, they are pets and also have names: Dear Prudence, Lovely Rita, Polyethene Pam, Dizzy Miss Lizzy and Anna. You may sense a theme...
Henny Lane (Windsor, Colo.)
I've been tending my flock for nearly four years and lived in blissful ignorance that I never had a mouse problem. Now, I'm sure there were mice...but I didn't see them. Until recently. It started when a mouse kept getting into the feeder. A rat-proof feeder, mind you. It was the WORST. I would lift the lid in the morning to check the feed level and twice I found a mouse scrambling to get out. I'm sure my neighbors wondered why there was shrieking (and cussing) in the early morning.

So we had a mouse. But yeah, I know. It's never just one mouse. One night, as I went to close the coop door, mice (plural!) ran over my feet. And that was it. I declared Mice War. (Now, before you judge, please know that I am a huge animal advocate. I break for squirrels. Rabbits are cute. I catch and release spiders. I don't like to kill anything...but mice are dirty, vile and can have a host of diseases that are harmful to me, the dogs and my chickens.)

Traps. And chicken treats!
The Mice War has been going on for five days and we've caught and killed 13 mice so far (a baker's dozen!). Dad has assured me that it's likely a dent in the population.
The official dead mouse count. (The quote has nothing to do with mice. I just love "Caddyshack".)
Dad also told me that mice have babies every 20 days. Thanks dad. So I will continue to trap until I go at least five days without a catch.

We have given the mice their own jar of peanut butter.
This weekend I'm going to try to find and locate their nests--with additional shrieking and cussing, I'm sure. I suspect they've found a cozy spot underneath the plastic storage bin next to the chicken run.
Maple is pretty sure this is where the mice are nesting. By the way, beagles are not good mice hunters.
I have to say, it's difficult to trap mice when you have both dogs and chickens to think about. Poison baits are dangerous for non-target mammals (plus, you have to think of the risk of an animal eating the poisoned mouse) and traps left out during the day would likely be set off by the nose of a beagle or pecking chicken. So mouse-hunting, in my yard, happens from dusk to dawn using only snap traps. I am working on cleaning up the spilled feed (a difficult task) and eliminating other food sources.
Lovely Rita is happy the mice populations are decreasing.
The biggest lesson here is that anytime you are feeding outdoor animals (birds, squirrels, ducks, dogs), you're going to have mice. So setting out a few traps periodically is a good practice. Just keep everyone safe in the process. For more information, check out this U of Maryland publication.
Happy chickens and happy beagle.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

2018 Plant Color of the Year is Purple!

Posted by:  Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin Extension

The 2018 color of the year is purple and purple plants are listed as one of the top gardening trends for 2018.

Purple can be perceived as either a warm color or a cool color, depending on what colors it is adjacent to.  A purple-blue-green combination will appear cool while a purple-red-orange-yellow combination will appear warm.  Cool colors are relaxing and cooling and warm colors are stimulating and warming. 

When designing your garden with purple plants, keep in mind that the color purple recedes into the background so you will only enjoy your purple plants up close.  To make your garden with purple plants ‘pop’, provide contrast with complimentary colors (oranges and yellows).  You can also add interest and contrast with contrasting color and texture in plant foliage. 

Purple coloring in plants is due to water-soluble pigments in the plants called anthocyanins.  They are responsible for the colors red, purple, and blue in fruits and vegetables. They have antioxidative and antimicrobial properties, improve visual and neurological health, and protect against various diseases in humans and animals.

Anthocyanins are associated with many different plant/animal interactions. These include the attraction of pollinators as well as animals that survive on fruit.  They can also repel herbivores and parasites.

Following are a few of my personal favorite purple plants that I have grown, both ornamental and edible.

First off is my favorite purple cabbage: ‘Mammoth Red Rock’. 

Brassica oleracea var. capitata ‘Mammoth Red Rock’ is an open-pollinated heirloom cabbage variety from 1889.  They average 4-7 pounds when mature.  Cabbages prefer cool temperatures and can survive light freezes.  They form tighter heads, color up more and taste sweeter if they mature in fall rather than summer.  A good gardener friend tells me that purple cabbages are less susceptible to aphids than green cabbages.  The cabbage in the photo above had almost 2 more months until harvest in mid to late November. I made a gallon of sauerkraut with half of the mature cabbage.

Other favorite purple vegetables that I grow are ‘Purple Mountain’ potatoes, a Colorado-bred spud, ‘Black Nebula’ carrot, ‘Shiraz Tall Top’ beet (if you can call beets purple).  I recently discovered a bush-pea variety with purple flowers that can be grown in containers called ‘Little Snowpea Purple’. 

The most dependable purple flowering plant in my garden is ‘Grandpa Otts’ morning glory (Ipomoea purpurea ‘Grandpa Ott’s’), a tender annual vine. 

‘Grandpa Ott’s’ morning glory was one of the seeds that started the Seed Savers Exchange.  I was given the seeds of this plant years ago at a Pro Green Expo in Denver.  I planted them on my deck in a 5 gallon bucket.  For the past 10 years, they have been reseeding dependably, but politely, in containers on my deck and occasionally popping up in the garden soil beside the deck.  

The photo above was taken a few years ago in early summer before full growth of the morning glories, nasturtiums (Tropaeolum lobbianum ‘Moonlight’) and another favorite that I grow each year because the chipmunks won’t eat them, Dahlberg daisies (Thymophylla tenuiloba).  In case you have a good eye, trained to diagnose plant problems, the morning glories look like they have a virus on the leaves but I have only seen that one year.  It could have also been caused by reflected heat.

Another favorite purple flower in my gardens is the biennial flowering plant, Canterbury bells (Campanula media). 

They are true biennials so they never bloom until the second year, at least for me.  But, when they do bloom, they bloom the entire season.  They are a hardy, cottage garden flower that re-seed happily in my garden. I love to share the tiny seeds at seed exchanges.  They come in shades of purples, pinks and white as can be seen in the far right of the above photo, taken in late June or early July.   They also make good cut flowers. 

I cannot possibly pick a favorite native flower but the purplest one I can think of is the beautiful and stately larkspur of our mountains, Delphinium barbeyi. 

This native flower is common in the subalpine zone.  It grows from 4- 7’ tall in moist areas.  It is often found growing alongside cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) or osha (Ligusticum porteri).  The photo above was taken in the San Juan Mountains a little above timberline on August 2, 2017.
Other beautiful purple native flowers in Colorado are the delicate bluebells of Scotland (Campanula rotundifolia), many fleabane species (Erigeron spp.), fringed gentians (Gentianopsis thermalis) and many, many others. 

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) are a native fruit that are used to make sought- after jellies and jams.  My grandmother, Eloise McMahon, taught me which native fruits are good to forage and we’d make chokecherry  jelly and chokecherry syrup for sour dough pancakes. 

The plants, except for the fruit, contain a poison hydrocyanic acid.  When you eat them raw they sometimes give your mouth a dry, puckery feeling.  The flavor they give jellies and syrups is very distinctive.  They supposedly taste sweetest after a frost but by then the bears may have beaten you to them!   

My favorite purple Colorado cultivated fruit is the Bing cherry (Prunus avium 'Bing').

I look forward to the cherry season each year and can eat a pound at a time of fresh cherries.  Yum!   Not only are bing cherries delicious, they also have anti-inflammatory properties.  Paonia Colorado has celebrated more than 70 years of cherry harvest in western Colorado around each 4th of July with the festival “Cherry Days”.

Let me know your favorite purple plants in the comments,