CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Plants That Hunger: Green Insectivores through the Dormant Season

Posted by: John Stolzle, Jefferson County Extension 

We’re well into autumn, tilting further into the dormant season.. but this doesn’t have to be a time completely devoid of plant life, of green, of fresh produce and herbs. You can have freshly fallen foliage on your floor 365 days a year, if you like. Personally I enjoy the weirdness that comes with being surrounded by green plants while it is snowing outside, but that's just me.

But while we’re at it, why not consider raising a world of green insectivores that live on the brink? Carnivorous plants that consume other organisms on a regular basis. It sounds very much the stuff of sci-fi and imagination. In reality, quite a variety of these curiously adapted organisms exist in nature. And as fearsome and tough as they may seem or sound from reputation, carnivorous plants can be quite sensitive. They need care and particular environments to thrive.

In this blog post, I outline a little information on some of the more common carnivorous plants which you may be more likely to encounter in a garden nursery. At the end of the post I have also included links to information on less ‘fussy’ and more resilient plants that will just grow and be happy in a wide array of indoor environments, no doting required. 

Along the way, I will be providing plenty of links to further reading for a variety of these topics.

Carnivorous Plants

In the harsh reality of Colorado’s climate, many of these plants would not survive a week outdoors. It’s dry, the soil is challenging in many respects, and the temperature and weather fluctuates seemingly by the hour; however, in climate controlled home environments, these botanic curiosities can have a place right by any bedside.

But even indoors, they need a little extra care. As a kid, I always wondered why the mighty Venus Flytraps I purchased would die within a week. One problem is that I was treating them like quasi houseplant-animals rather than specialized organisms which needed time to acclimate. I wanted to see them eat bugs, but what they needed was time… and likely for me to stop poking them every 10 minutes.

Carnivorous plants have evolved to flourish in environments which are very low in accessible nutrients (low in Nitrogen and minerals salts, for example). But these plants do not primarily get their sustenance from their living meals; rather, they convert light into sugars (via chloroplasts) like all plants. They capture and 'process' their prey to compensate for their low-nutrient environments – it's like they take supplements in the form of digested insects! It’s a method to obtain a few specific things here and there but not a primary means for the plants to obtain energy. Also, don’t feed them raw meat.

Before diving in, an amazing list of detailed recommendations for the cultivation of various carnivorous plants may be found here:

Venus Flytraps (Dionaea muscipula)

Venus Flytrap - Dionaea muscipula
James Henderson, Golden Delight Honey,

These little shop of horror-esque curiosities are native to a coastal region in North and South Carolina. The can consume an array of insects but in the wild their diets primarily revolve around ants, spiders, and even small beetles; the plant will clamp down when an insect brushes by two of its internal hairs. Once trapped, insects are digested in about a week (or a little more), after which the jaws reopen in preparation for another meal. If the plant's mechanism is accidentally triggered or an insect manages to escape, it will take about 8hours for a trap to reopen. A mixture of Sphagnum moss and sand is often used as a growth medium for Venus Flytraps. But it is important to note that they (and many other carnivorous plants) do not grow well in salty soils; Venus Flytraps and are so sensitive that even using “hard” mineral-heavy water can have a detrimental impact to their health. Use distilled water when possible, and try to keep them in an environment above 50% humidity. Because it is so dry here in Colorado, it might be necessary to grow one in a terrarium or other semi-sealed type of environment.

More information on the Venus Fly trap:

Sundews (Drosera spp.)

Sundew - Drosera spp.

Rob Routledge, Sault College,

This genus (group of species) of plants ranges drastically in color from pinks to purples with reds in between; some have long thin tentacle leaves while others have short stubby spoon shaped leaves. The hairs on the leaves are tipped with a sticky substance that traps insects. Upon detecting a trapped insect, the leaf will roll itself up and begin digesting its meal. The Sundew then absorbs the nutrients through its leaves. Some research suggests that Sundews can obtain 20-57% of their required nitrogen from prey. A word of caution, if you decide to try growing one, do a little research on your variety. The needs of these plants can vary quite a bit between species of this genus; for example, some cannot handle dried mealworms as a food source while others can, some can tolerate a little bit of dryness while others do well in pots placed in trays of water. More detailed information for cultivating these plants can be found here:

Pitcher Plants (varied)

This group encompasses multiple genera of similar plants.

 Darlingtonia californica - California Pitcher Plant

Harlan B. Herbert,

The pitcher plant Darlingtonia californica (aka. California Pitcher Plantis native to Oregon and California. True to their namesake, these plants grow in a pitcher-like form. An insect will find itself drawn into the pitcher, fall into a small pool of water at its base, and then struggle to escape due to various possible plant adaptations (for example, some species have smooth and slick pitcher walls, others have downward pointing hairs or small spines). The water at the base of these plants is often enhanced with digestive enzymes, and nutrients are absorbed through the walls of the plant at the base of the pitcher. The California Pitcher plant has a twist in its pitcher to help retain prey, it is also somewhat unique in that it relies on bacteria and microinvertebrates to help breakdown trapped insects.

Darlingtonia californica - California Pitcher Plant
Harlan B. Herbert,

I won't go into detail on the Napenthes pitcher plant (image below), other than to say it is another common variety; more information can be found in the links following the image.

Nepenthes Pitcher Plant

Rebekah D. Wallace, University of Georgia,
Carnivorous plants can be challenging to grow, but the challenge can be part of the fun. And one day, all of the pieces may come together and you might find yourself with a terrarium full of curious wonders. It just takes some deliberate preparation: a semi-enclosed terrarium, growth medium (sphagnum moss and sand or other), proper lighting and watering. Alas, it seems so simple. Fortunately in-depth guides exist (previously linked). But, if you're like me then you might want some plants that just grow well indoors without a lot of fuss. 

If you’re interested in learning more about the kind you can just "give water and they’ll grow", then I highly recommend you check out the following few links:

A short Afterward

These curious carnivores are pretty cool, unfortunately many species are threatened, endangered, and some critically so, due to poaching, habitat destruction, and so forth. There do exist licensed vendors for these plants. And so if you are interested in trying to grow one of these curious terrors, do a little investigation and please make sure you are getting your exotic plants from a reputable source.

If you are interested in learning more about indoor gardening, then you might also be interested in checking out these other posts in this indoor blog series: 

And as always,
Best of luck in your gardening endeavors!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Farewell, stressful summer

 Posted by: Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension

2020 has been a challenging year, for sure. And while one of the biggest challenges of the year (yes, I’m talking about you, COVID!) led to increased interest in gardening, mother nature made it a hard year to grow the plants we had time to tend to. If you were a first-year or novice gardener in 2020 and felt like you had a lot to overcome, you weren’t alone.

Besides being somewhat off due to the pandemic, this summer in Northwest Colorado was also:

Hot and dry: plants that had a good start with our warm spring were shocked to have to survive the blistering heat that July and August brought. In fact, August was the hottest and driest on record in Routt county according to state climatologist Russ Schumacher. Our typical cool-season plants bolted early, wilted often, and suffered from the heat.

Not a banner year, but we did get some production.

But summer was also cold: my garden suffered a set-back on July 1st when an unexpected and unwelcomed frost hit my garden hard. Our zucchini, yellow squash, and cucumbers never really recovered. The hot days we had were juxtapositioned with many cold evenings, which plants struggled with, too.

Late summer and this fall were also smoky: that thick haze can create a diffused light pattern which can help plants, but it can also keep the gardener out of the garden which can lead to increased weed competition, less water, etc.

The chickens love grasshoppers, and really love
that they've now been given run of the garden
This summer was great for grasshoppers: lack of regular moisture in the late spring meant that grasshoppers had no real natural control early in their life-cycle this year, so we saw big numbers in late summer. They also had a voracious appetite. Many flowers and vegetables fell victim to their gnawing.

This summer was tough on trees: many trees in yards budded early when we got the first wave of hot weather, only to be damaged as more seasonable temps came back and froze the new, early growth. This can cause long-term damage to trees, so it will be interesting to see how they look in spring 2021. And who can think about the wackiness of this summer and not discuss the amazing wind that struck the day after labor day? Many mature, beautiful trees broke limbs and branches, snapped in half, or were just uprooted by hurricane force winds. Again, a lot of long-term damage due to this storm will manifest over the next few years, so we don’t yet know what the total damage will be.

And finally, a cold snap now that is seeing well-below-zero temps early: I saw -19 on my way into town today. Most of our trees and perennials have gone into dormancy, but there isn’t much insulating snow around plants. Will our more-sensitive plants that are Zone 4 or 5 suffer as a result? We can often grow things here that can’t survive cold temps because we cover them well with snow before getting below zero. Yet again, we’ll have wait until next year to see what the damage may be.

Yes, this growing season is one we won’t be sorry to see go from a plant-health perspective, but it is one we hate to see go for so many other reasons, mostly because we know a long winter is ahead of us. Stay warm this winter and stay well, and take advantage of this time to plan for the warmer days to come.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

5th Annual Pollinator Summit Goes Virtual

 Posted by: Deryn Davidson, Boulder County

Photo by: Arianna Kelley Rawlsky

There is no doubt that more and more people are becoming aware of the important role pollinators (insects, birds and mammals) play in everything from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear. Pollinator gardens are being planted in neighborhoods and researchers spend their careers learning about every facet of these fascinating creatures. Whether you are already immersed in this world or just curious about the state of Colorado’s pollinators, you might be interested in joining the Colorado Pollinator Network (CPN) for their 5th annual Pollinator Summit on Thursday, November 5th. Typically an in-person event, the 2020 Summit will be held virtually for everyone’s convenience and safety.  

The theme of this year’s summit is to look at how we can bridge disciplines and promote conservation actions to protect pollinator habitats and foster pollinator diversity. The organizers hope to welcome a broad audience to explore the state of pollinator conservation in Colorado, identify obstacles to conservation action across disciplines, and identify strategies to overcome the challenges of pollinator conservation here in Colorado and beyond.

The Summit has an array of speakers lined up including international bee expert and bestselling author, Dave Goulson, Professor of Biology at University of Sussex in England. He has published more than 300 scientific articles on the ecology and conservation of bumblebees and other insects. In his talk he will discuss “why insects are in decline, and suggest how we should tackle this crisis, first by turning our gardens and urban greenspaces into oases for life, and second by fundamentally changing the way we grow food.”

There will be two tracks in which attendees will have the opportunity to listen to expert panels present on various Colorado pollinator topics 1) Education, Engagement and Equity: Inspiring Coloradans to Work for Change; 2) Policy Panel Discussion: Creating and Implementing Policies that Accelerate Pollinator Conservation; 3) Colorado’s Pollinator Research: Building Knowledge to Inform Conservation Action; 4) Managing our Lands to Protect Pollinators and Build Resilient Farms, Rangeland and Cities. Afterwards participants will have a chance to engage in live panel discussions on issues surrounding Colorado pollinators. There will be virtual vendors available throughout the day for attendees to visit as well as poster sessions by area researchers and students.

Sponsors of the Pollinator Summit and the organizing partners include the Butterfly Pavilion, CU Museum of Natural History, Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver Audubon, CSU Extension in Boulder County, People & Pollinators Action Network, City of Boulder, and CU Community Engagement, Design and Research Center.

Haven’t heard of the Colorado Pollinator Network? From their website: “The Colorado Pollinator Network was established in 2016 with a mission to bring organizations together to work collaboratively to conserve, protect and create pollinator habitat while educating communities across the state of Colorado to protect our pollinators. The Network allows for organizations and individuals throughout Colorado to collaborate to make a positive impact on the health of our state pollinators. This group shares information about the best practices, resources and knowledge to support education initiatives, conservation, restoration and creation of habitat and research on pollinators in the state.”

For more information on speakers, session schedule and to register visit  

Monday, October 19, 2020

Fire Recovery Tips

By Susan Carter, CSU Extension Tri River Area, Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent

I live in Fruita where the Pine Gulch Fire had the title of the largest Colorado fire until the Cameron Peak Fire exceeded it.  Having to respond to the effects of fire in many ways has taught me a lot this year.  Pardon me if I go off the plant topic a little on and off in this blog, but I hope you will appreciate it.

During our fire I had many mornings where the garden covered in ash.  I learned that the ash was very high pH, coming in around 11!  Seven is neutral and in Western Colorado it is common for our alkaline soils to be a pH of 8.   So 11 is very high.  So hosing or blowing off the ash so the plants would not be harmed by a loss of photosynthesis and the ash is a good idea.  I did end up with one squash plant that suffered.  If your walkways and other hard surfaces are covered with ash, sweep them off and throw it away.  Do NOT add it to the garden.  This is especially dangerous if any structures burned as then you don’t know what might be in the ash.

During Pine Gulch fire I got a question about animals, so here is the information I got from some wonderful CSU experts.  Keep your pets and backyard chickens and other animals inside as much as possible.  Clean their water often as ash can mess up their digestive systems.  Animals don’t need to be breathing the air any more than we do.  Try to watch your local air quality and do your landscaping and gardening when the air quality is not so bad.

The drought, fire and ash got me thinking about defensible space and being ready for an emergency.  My husband is a retired firefighter EMT of 21 years and fought many wildfires.  So we have items in case of emergency in our car, etc...  Make part of your gardening and landscaping thinking and acting to prevent fires around your property.   In this time of drought, wildfires could happen ANYWHERE.  We should all be prepared.

So how can you be prepared in the garden and landscape?  Well, I would start by removing any dead plants.  Deadhead flowers (removing flower stalks that are no longer blooming) as often these dry out.  Plus this will put my energy back in the root system of perennials and shrubs instead of working on producing seeds.  Remove leaf litter that is close to the house or in the gutters.  It just takes one ember to land in a crook of the house where there is debris and a fire starts.  You could start a compost pile away from the house to put plant debris.  Use rock mulch or other materials like flagstone, pavers, or other non-combustible materials closest to the house.  Keep wood piles and other wood products or structures away from the house.  Ideally a zone of lower growing, high-moderate water loving plants would be closer to your house as long as it does not affect your foundation. 

To create defensible space, height should increase as you move away from the house. 

See this website for more detailed information on Defensible Space.,modified%20to%20reduce%20fire%20hazard.&text=Develop%20these%20zones%20around%20each,buildings%2C%20barns%20and%20other%20structures.

Did you know that there are plants that are more fire resistant?  Of course some of that depends on drought and how much moisture is in the plants. .  Choose plants that do not produce a lot of litter under them.  Aspen trees would be a good high altitude garden choice over 5000 plus feet elevation, I personally recommend even higher like 6-7000’ as aspen do not do well in the low Valley’s heat and clay soil.  

Pinyon pine with twig or bark beetle damage, picture from Tri River Area

Now let’s talk drought.  I have been getting many calls about older trees not doing well.  For those of us in town with irrigation, give your trees and landscape a really good drink before the irrigation goes off.  If you live on a large properties or up in the mountains, typically there is not a lot you can do other than depending on Mother Nature for moisture.  But could you water one or a few favorite or most important trees?  If they are mature established trees, water out twice their height or spread and give them a deep soak once a month to a depth of 12-18”.  This will keep them vigorous enough to help ward of insects like bark beetles and borers.  Some trees, like pinion pines, might need some insecticide treatments to prevent ips beetle from investing.  When there are epidemics of insects and there is prolonged drought, the trees are very susceptible to attack.

For trees with lower dead limbs, removing them can decrease fire ladder potential and helps the tree to heal.  Prune evergreens when dormant to prevent attracting insects like bark beetles and borers.  Make sure you use proper pruning techniques and cut outside the bark ridge and bark collar.  For bigger limbs use the three cut method to prevent the limb from breaking and causing trunk damage. Turn these limbs into chips or stack in a wood pile, again away from your structures.  If the plants are diseased or insect infested follow appropriate protocol for that particular issue to dispose of or prevent any spread of issues.

I hate to say it but I am hoping for an earlier winter with lots of moisture to help with the fires and the drought.  We can only do, what we can do the rest is up to Mother Nature.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Grow & Give: Community Garden Makes a Big Impact

 By Amy Lentz, CSU - Weld County Horticulture Agent


With the unique situation of the global pandemic that began back in March, many CSU Extension staff shifted gears to create the Grow & GiveTM program. This program took the idea of the victory garden and modernized it for 2020 by creating a comprehensive, statewide horticulture initiative focused on helping people grow a food garden and donate the produce locally to address food insecurity. The program registered almost 600 gardens across 37 counties in Colorado, with participation from individuals, Master Gardeners and community-run gardens. 

During the Grow & GiveTM program’s pilot year, there have been over 1600 reported donations across the state, totaling more than 40,000 pounds of produce! In addition to all of the amazing donations that were spurred by the program, the organizing team created several new resources for participants to help them with their ‘growing and giving’ questions and needs. To learn more about the Grow & GiveTM program, visit  

One particular garden in my home county deserves some serious recognition for their past and present involvement in growing food for donations and their participation in this year's Grow & GiveTM program. The Treasure Island Demonstration Garden donated over 5,580 pounds of produce over the past few months, all donated locally! Although this wasn't their first year growing food for donation (they've been doing that for over 10 years), it was the first year they had to do it while dealing with restrictions due to the pandemic.


Treasure Island Demonstration Garden, conveniently located along the Poudre River Trail in Windsor, is visited by thousands of pedestrians and cyclists each year as they pass by the long garden area. The garden started 13 years ago as a side project for a small group of Weld County Colorado Master Gardeners. In their first year, they grew lots of pumpkins to get the garden up and running. Since then, the garden has grown to be an attractive and educational landmark of the town.

Today, Treasure Island is home to several garden sections including a very large vegetable garden, kitchen garden, dahlia garden, ornamental grass garden, memorial rose garden, a crevice garden and several mixed perennial gardens. 

The vegetable garden has really been thriving this year, with an abundance of crops such as cabbage, broccoli, zucchini, summer squash, onions, and tomatoes and peppers of all kinds! All of the fresh produce is donated to the Windsor Food Pantry for distribution throughout the area to those in need.

We are so proud of Windsor's volunteers at the Treasure Island Demonstration Garden and their continued efforts to help their local community! The Treasure Island Demonstration Garden is located at 1560 7th St. in Windsor, Colorado.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Native Shrubs for Fall Color

Yvette Henson, CSU Extension, San Miguel Basin

We all love the golds and oranges of our native aspen and cottonwood trees and we take annual drives into the mountains in late September and October to see them in their glory.  But, we don’t give as much attention to other native shrubs that also have good fall color.

In Colorado, western Colorado at least, our scrub oaks (Quercus gambelii) are a major contributor to our fall color and the hillsides look like Oriental carpets of burnt ochre, sienna, rust and chartreuse.  Some other native shrubs that add to the color palette are the burgundy leaves and stems of red twig dogwoods and gilded willows growing along riverbanks, the rusty reds and oranges of three leaved sumacs and wild roses on the hillsides and roadsides.

Red-twig dogwoods, Cornus sericea, is popular in the landscape industry because of its colorful red or yellow branches make a show in the winter, especially against the snow.  Burgundy fall color is a beautiful contrast under native cottonwoods, along rivers.  In this photo, native virgin’s bower, Clematis ligusticifolia, is growing over it. 

I enjoy our native willows (Salix spp.) most in the late winter/early spring when the sap begins to flow and the stems are the most colorful.  I wish I could paint them.  They are in the Salicaceae family, like aspens and cottonwoods and have similar fall color.

Three-leaved sumac, Rhus trilobata, is also a favorite fall shrub for its varied rusty-red to chartreuse colored foliage.  In the early summer it produces salty-sour fruit that is good for making a lemonade like beverage.  In extreme western Colorado, there is a variety with simple, rather than compound leaves.

Wild roses (Rosa spp.) have similar fall color to three-leaved sumacs and also have colorful red hips that are high in vitamin C and are great for tea and homemade beauty products.

There are more native shrubs that add to our colorful fall, such as barberries (Berberis spp.), currants (Ribes spp.), sometimes snowberries (Symphoriocarpus spp.) and serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.).  Comment on others.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Planning and Planting perennials in Fall

Cassey Anderson, Master Gardener Coordinator in Adams County 

This is a great time of the year to get a few new perennials in the garden. As a bonus many nurseries are having great sales at the moment! 

I have been adding new garden bed space and reducing the lawn in my yard. This past spring I mulched with about 6” of arborists chips to prep this bed area (a silver lining to having had to remove many ash trees due to Emerald Ash Borer). This fall I decided that it’s ready to start filling it in. I purchased a Kniphofia flamenco (Red Hot Poker) and a Baptisia australis (False Indigo).

I started by determining where I wanted the plants. When planning locations for your perennials you want to consider the amount of sun that they need and will receive, how you will water them (no plant is xeric in its first year of establishment), and how exposed or protected the area is. In this area I've got drip lines running to each plant although I may run a secondary drip line with in-line emitters as I get more plants in the bed. Each of these plants takes full sun with glee and thankfully that is in abundance in this area! 

Perennials establish best if you bare-root them. This means removing the potting media they were grown in. One of the easiest ways to bare-root your perennials is by soaking the plant in a bucket of water and gently teasing the soil out of the roots. Root washing helps ensure good soil to root contact and plants are more likely to establish quickly than if you leave them in the “cushy” media.

This Kniphofia is nicely rooted and not pot-bound. 

The Baptisia is a little pot-bound but root washing
can rectify this for herbaceous perennials

One of the big differences you find when you bare-root your perennials is that the roots will get very long, so you may need to arrange your holes differently. You can tease the roots out to fill the space in the hole most effectively. That said, if your soil is in good condition you may not need to dig as big of a hole once you wash all the media off your roots.

Look at those gorgeous roots making an appearance!

The roots on the Baptisia were SO long, 
I had to go get a shovel and dig a larger
hole to accommodate them. 

The next step is to dig your holes, loosen the sides of the holes if you have any smooth surfaces from your shovel. There is not need to amend with any organic material unless you plan to amend the whole garden bed. Gently place your plants in the hole and distribute the roots evenly. Cover the roots up while holding the plant up (this takes some more care than with plants that have not been bare-rooted). 

Getting the plant in place, tease the 
roots so they can spread out and 
establish in the soil. 
Start to fill in gently around the
roots with your native soil. 

Finally, you want to water your plants in well over the next couple of days. The warm soils of autumn ensure that you can get some good root growth before the cold of winter really sets in. A layer of mulch will retain moisture for longer and has the benefit of reducing weeds in the area.

It might not look like much right now but I'm hopeful that by next year it will be looking much more filled in.