CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Feeling Thankful in 2020

 Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Don't get me wrong--it's been a hard year. There have been many challenges, new stresses, obstacles, and uncertainty. "Be flexible" has been a good mantra. Despite the bad, there's also been a lot of good. So let's take a moment to reflect on the positives...

People started gardening.

We were stuck at home, looking outside at our landscapes, so people picked up a shovel and got busy. This meant record-breaking seed salesBaker Creek, a supplier of heirloom seeds, reported over 10,000 orders on one day in late March. In some cases, this meant packing and shipping delays. It also meant that some seeds were completely sold out. For those of us in horticulture, the news was exciting! New gardeners! (And truth be told, it also provided us Extension folk a bit of job security, since we knew these new gardeners would have questions.) The record seed sales also extended to nurseries and greenhouses, who struggled to keep plants in stock due to demand. 

Shoppers at Fort Collins Nursery (photo courtesy of the Coloradoan)
Shoppers at Fort Collins Nursery (Fort Collins, Colo.) (photo courtesy of The Coloradoan)

Several garden centers reported higher-than-normal Mother's Day sales, with customers swarming to buy hanging baskets, annuals, and summer-blooming bulbs. Signs were posted that said, "New shipments are on their way!" Garden centers responded with curbside pick-up and online ordering. For months, one of the nurseries in Fort Collins had long lines lining the frontage road in front of their store the moment they opened each day. A warm welcome to all of our new gardeners!

Gardeners gave back to their community.

The CSU Extension Grow & Give project provided resources for people to grow produce with the intent of donating some of it back to their communities. Wildly successful (and award-winning!), this project was adopted by 37 Colorado counties. Gardeners donated more than 46,000 pounds of fruits and veggies to local food banks and pantries, as well as churches, community groups, and neighbors. 

Farmers' markets were successful

Nationally, farmers' markets were deemed as "essential business", meaning that they were allowed to operate as per health department regulations. The Larimer County Farmers' Market, operated by CSU Extension in Larimer County, scrambled to open their doors in May. Despite numerous regulations and mandates, the market operated successfully for 24 weeks. It even had the highest sales day in its 45-year history in August. Masked customers lined up obediently, six feet apart, to purchase their favorites from dedicated vendors. Hand sanitizer, wash stations, gloves, and masks all became part of the market culture. 

Styria Bakery II at the Larimer County Farmers' Market in Fort Collins (photo by Karen Collins)
Styria Bakery II at the Larimer County Farmers' Market (photo courtesy of Karen Collins)

Selling plants to get a home

I recently read this heart-warming story that brought tears to my eyes and provided the hope that we're so desperate for. Aaron Moreno, a California first grader whose family was homeless, sold plants to help his family get an apartment. His mom gave him her last $12, which he invested in succulents and sold them for a profit of $4. He took that money and reinvested it into buying more plants. Setting up his table outside a shed, where the family was living, people bought the plants--in droves. Aaron's Garden raised enough money (with the help of GoFundMe) to move his family out of the shed into an apartment. Aaron now has money in the bank and a place to do homework. While he may not stay in horticulture (he wants to be a judge), it's clear that gardening changed his family's life. 

Aaron Moreno of Aaron's Garden (photo courtesy of Instagram @aaronsgarden)
Aaron Moreno of Aaron's Garden (photo courtesy of @aaronsgarden on Instagram)

Yep. It's been a tough year. But there's still so much good. And if tough times have proven anything before, it's that we'll get through this. Together. Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Monday, November 16, 2020

8 Ways Cover Crops Can Improve Your Garden

Patti O’Neal

Jefferson County Horticulture and Urban Food Systems

Cover cropping, a strategy also known as green manure, has been practiced by gardeners and farmers the world over for over 10,000 years. This organic restoration practice can boost your garden noticeably the very first year you incorporate it into your own best management practices and the improvements increase even more each year as their effects accumulate. These crops are easy to use, do not need much care beyond watering and a mowing or two and provide tremendous advantages to the garden and gardener.

Cover crops are plants that are considered soil builders. Here are 8 sometimes overlooked ways that cover crops build the soil productivity in your garden:

·       Provides Beneficial insect habitat – pollinators, honeybees, beneficial predator insects will all enjoy the nectar as well as the shelter these crops can provide at every season you use them. 

·       Smothers weeds and suppresses their seed from germinating as well.  They provide a dense mat to keep the light from reaching the seeds.

·       Better, more complete soil tillage than any mechanical method.  These crops improve soil structure, allowing more air and water penetration. They can break up soil compaction, loosen tight, hard, or heavy soils and create good tilth.

·       Provides shade for the soil for cooler root temperatures, less moisture losses during hot weather.

·       Acts as a living mulch when established between vegetable rows. 

·       Increases organic matter in the soil while feeding the microbes, beneficial bacteria, fungi, and earthworms living in the soil.

·       Conserves soil moisture both at the surface of the soil and in the critical root zone. The extensive root systems conserve soil by reducing erosion from rain by slowing water flow across and through the soil. The living foliage can also buffer wind effects.

·       Fixes nitrogen from the air while recycling nutrients, preventing their run-off and leaching from the root zone, simultaneously bringing up deeper nutrients to plant roots that are usually unavailable.

Use seasonally appropriate cover crops.  Legumes, vetches, rye, and buckwheat are all excellent cover crop plants.  Like all plants, each cover crop germinates and flourishes best in certain seasons. Most reputable seed companies will sell individual crop packets or recommended mixes appropriate for specific season plantings.  Some cover crop seeds are available locally, but seed catalogues have the widest range and generally provide good advice and instruction on using them. 


                        Buckwheat flowering in  Betty Cahill's raised beds

If you are letting a bed or area of your garden go fallow for a season, this thousands year old practice of planting a cover crop can help to replenish the biological community of your soil below while providing nectar as well as shelter for pollinators and beneficials above. Here are a couple of tips to help you be the most successful with a green manure crop.   

·       Allow your crop to flower but watch carefully and do not let it go to seed or you will be battling weeds of a different sort in the months to come. 

Flowering red clover

·       If you plant early enough in the season you can get one or maybe even two mowing’s in (If you garden in raised beds, a weed whacker works great for this) forcing the root material into overdrive to produce another above ground crop.  This action forces the root system further into the soil to depositing additional nutrients while continuing to improve tilth, bringing formerly unavailable nutrients up to the plant root zone. 

After your final mowing, fork the remainder of the material under so the microbes and arthropods you have encouraged can break it all down completely to become plant available nutrients.  Be sure and do this at least a month to six weeks before your intended planting date for this bed.  Otherwise, the increased microbial activity will compete with the root establishment of new plants or can even disrupt germination of seeds. You do not want to spoil all the good work you have done. 

Farris helping to turn the cover crop

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Overwintering Perennials in Containers

Posted by Sarah Schweig, Broomfield County Extension

You may have perennials in containers rather than in the ground for a number of reasons. Perhaps you incorporated them into patio plantings, or maybe they were bought with the intention of planting them, but you didn’t get around to it. Either way, you’ll need to protect most containerized perennials if you want them to survive the winter. 

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones in Colorado Map

The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone on your plant tag is based on the plant’s ability to survive winters in the ground, and if you want to rely on hardiness zones, you should look two zones colder than your area when considering plants in containers. For reference, we are Zone 6a here in Broomfield, based on average minimum temperatures from -10ºF to -5ºF annually. For two zones colder, think more like parts of Grand County or Park County in Zone 4a, which has average minimum temperatures of -30ºF to -25ºF. Add the fact that hardiness zones are based on 30-year averages (would anyone classify Colorado weather as predictable?), and it’s important to note that even plants rated for two zones colder are no guarantee for winter survival in containers. That said, there are strategies for protecting your perennial containers, and the more hardy the plant, the better their chances of survival.

Plant containers dug into ground


By digging containers into soil, you can get the same insulative protection for roots that they would get if planted in the soil. Water plants before setting in the ground, and dig holes deep enough for plants to sit at the same level they would if planted in the ground. Mulch heavily for added protection.


Drying winds and temperature fluctuations are as much an issue as low temperatures when it comes to winter survival. Soil heaving can occur when soils freeze and thaw repeatedly, potentially breaking roots or exposing sensitive parts of the plant. Larger containers can help mitigate soil desiccation and temperatures and therefore increase chances for winter survival. You can also simulate this positive effect by grouping containers together. Allow the containers to protect each other by placing larger containers on the outside of the huddle and smaller containers on the inside. Get added protection by placing in an area protected from wind and mulching around and over the tops of the pots.


Unheated indoor spaces like garages or sheds are another option. Many perennials require annual cold temperatures and a dormancy period, so this space should ideally stay around 30º - 40ºF, warm enough to protect from injury and cold enough for vernalization. Don’t forget to check on plants stored indoors periodically and water when dry.


For all of these options, continue to water plants until soil freezes, and water throughout the winter when temperatures are above 40ºF. It’s important to keep an eye on your containers as temperatures begin to warm and stabilize in the spring. You don’t want to expose plants too quickly to environmental conditions. On the other hand, if protection remains in place too long, plants could start their spring growth prematurely. For those stored indoors, begin to bring outside when night time temperatures are around freezing. Late cold snaps may require bringing the pots back in temporarily, but it’s a small price to pay if they’ve made it that far. For pots huddled together in a protected outdoor location, begin to remove mulch gradually over a number of weeks as the weather warms. For pots sunk in the ground, remove them at the early signs of new growth to avoid their roots growing into the surrounding soil.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Winter Time Considerations for Pollinators and Wildlife

By Sherie Shaffer, Horticulture Agent, CSU Extension-Pueblo County

Warm weather and flower blooms have gone away, but pollinators and wildlife still look to our yards and gardens for survival! Whether it’s shelter or food, we can help buzzing bees and feathered friends by making careful considerations in our landscapes this winter.

First of all, where do these creatures go during the winter? Some butterflies, most notably monarchs, are known for migrating to warmer climates during the winter. However, there are plenty of pollinators and other wildlife that will spend winter in Colorado. Most of our native bee species (which are very important pollinators of native flowers!) don’t survive as the adults we are used to seeing, but as eggs in a nest that their mother has prepared for them. Once the weather starts to warm they will complete their growth into an adult bee and emerge right in time to pollinate flowers. Many birds will migrate south for the winter, but there are many species that will brave the long Colorado winter, even in the mountains. These birds use strategies such as molting, diet changes, torpor (a type of temporary hibernation) and even cuddling up together to share body heat.

Ground nesting bee- Xerces Society

So what can you do to help pollinators and wildlife during the winter? It turns out there are a lot of very simple things you can do at home that will make a big difference!

I feel like I am a bit of broken record on this one, but don’t rake up your leaves! Bumblebee queens, larva of butterflies and moths, and even beneficial insects like lady bugs will overwinter in a leaf pile and be ready to emerge into your landscape in spring.

Lady bug on fall leaves- 123rf

Try to avoid disturbing possible nesting sites as much as possible. Many of our native bees nest either in bare soil or in hollow stems of plants. Making sure you leave the bare soil undisturbed as long as possible, and waiting to cut back plants until spring will ensure that nests are able to survive until spring.

Continue to put out food for the birds. Black oil sunflower seeds are a preferred food for many wild birds. Some other birds are particularly attracted to suet. This article from Gilpin County Extension gives a lot more great tips on feeding birds. Also, next spring consider planting a shrub with berries like a golden currant or three leaf sumac that will help keep the birds fed next winter.

Birds feeding- Boulder Home and Garden Magazine

Winter is almost here, time to relax indoors and dream of spring blooms to come, but the pollinators are still out there, so give them a boost where you can!