CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Colorado Golf is a BIG DEAL

 Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

Yes, I'm back, blogging again about golf. And maybe this is the post where you'll find appreciation for this sport that provides so much entertainment and so much frustration (often in the same round! Sometimes on the same hole!), even though you may not play. The Colorado Golf Coalition released its 2021 Colorado Golf Economic and Environmental Impact Report, a report that hadn't been conducted in 19 years. Based on data from 2019, the 76 page report is chock-full of golf facts, impacts, and information about how the industry benefits Colorado.

A gorgeous view at the Boulder County Club (photo by Alison O'Connor)
Did you know that of the approximately 260 golf courses in Colorado, 75% of them are publicly accessible? That means you could play a round at the Broadmoor (treat yo'self!), soak up the scenery at Mariana Butte in Loveland, or play a round with a caddie at CommonGround. Colorado also has some incredible private courses that would knock your ankle socks off. Like Ballyneal in Holyoke, which is ranked #44 on Golf Digest's list of top 100 courses in America. Located in a tiny town of 2,400 people, Ballyneal is links golf at its finest.

And while golf courses are often chastised for being water hogs, all the courses in Colorado account for less than 1% of the total water used in the state. And superintendents are finding ways to water more efficiently. According to the report, "To help put things into perspective, if Colorado’s total annual water usage equaled your typical 16.9-ounce bottled drink, the amount used by Colorado golf would be less than one teaspoonful. And more than a quarter of that is reclaimed water." The vast majority of all superintendents (97%) are also using more than three water-saving techniques and have extensive water management plans. 

Golf courses also promote wildlife, pollinators, and provide so many environmental benefits (abating the heat island effect, mitigating runoff, sequestering carbon). Of the 33,061 total acreage of golf courses, about one-third is designated wetlands, water areas, and native rough. Several golf courses in Colorado are also Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Certified, taking extra steps to protect land and environment through rigorous management plans.

Ok, maybe not the most exciting wildlife, but how often do you see a Canada goose perched in a tree? (photo by Alison O'Connor)
If you were one of the many who started playing (or reignited a passion for) golf during Covid, you weren't alone. Golf is essentially the perfect social distancing activity. Walking 18 holes can provide you with over 10,000 steps (more if you stray from the fairway). The number of golf rounds in Colorado increased approximately 20% in the last couple of years. (For those who play frequently, you quickly found out how hard it was to book a round on a weekend at your local muni!) Colorado golf is a $1.3 billion (yes, with a B!) industry and accounts for nearly 20,000 jobs. 

So if you're not one of the 487,300 golfers in Colorado, maybe you could put it on your list of things to try in 2022? I'll tee it up with you anytime! Full disclosure, I'm a dewsweeper (morning golfer)!

Early morning golf at Collindale Golf Course in Fort Collins (photo by Alison O'Connor)

Monday, December 27, 2021

Harison's Yellow Rose

Posted by: Linda Langelo, Golden Plains Area Extension

Driving around our small rural towns you will notice a yellow shrub rose. This yellow shrub rose has many names such as Pioneer Rose, Oregon Trail Rose, the Yellow Rose of Texas, Yellow Hogg's Rose, and Yellow Sweet Brier. Some of the locals here have called it Traveler's Rose or Settler's rose who have had the rose on their farm or homestead through the decades. And that's just a few of its names, but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right? Its real name is Harison’s Yellow rose.
Harison's Yellow rose
Harison's Yellow rose (photo by Linda Langelo)
This was the first rose of yellow color in this country. This rose has traveled the country from east to west and back again. In the 1800s Richard and George Harison were amateur rosarians and kept a rose garden at their home in Manhattan on their estate Mount Sinai in a semirural area. Today Eighth and Ninth Avenue between 30th and 31st streets are now what was once their garden. The Harison brothers kept Persian Yellow (Rosa foetida) and Scotch Briar (Rosa spinosissima) in their garden. The parentage is still uncertain, but most agree that this must have been a chance hybridization between the Persian Yellow and Scotch Briar growing in Harison's garden.

After being discovered in Manhattan it was to be given to several nurserymen. Two of the nurserymen were Thomas Hogg and Williams Nursery. Some accounts say it was marketed in 1830 while others say it went on sale in 1835 at the Prince Nursery in Fleming, New York called 'Harison's Yellow'.

As the pioneers came west some of the pioneer women sewed the roots deep into their hems of their linsey-woolsey skirts. As they walked through the prairie grasses, the dew would moisten their skirts and keep the roots alive. More specifically, it came to Texas from the Prince Nursery by way of Emily D. West, a freeborn African American who contracted with the entrepreneur James Morgan to work as a servant in the town of New Washington. When the revolution for Texan independence from Mexico engulfed New Washington, Emily West became a hero. On April 21, 1836, at Santa Ana Camp Emily distracted the revolutionary leader Sam Houston long enough to give her countrymen time to stage a surprise attack. After 1837, she went back to New York and was never heard from again except in song and lyrics from a folk tune titled, “The Yellow Rose of Texas”. Emily, the maid of Morgan’s Point was of mixed race, a mulatto. With her light complexion she was known colloquially as “yellow”. She was memorialized as “the sweetest little rosebud, that Texas ever knew.”

Texans of the Knights of the Yellow Rose use a yellow rose to pin to their lapels when they convene every April on the site of Santa Ana camp and pay tribute to Emily West. The Dallas Area Historical Rose Society’s newsletter, The Yellow Rose, annually features a yellow rose on the cover. The Harison’s Yellow rose has been used among other yellow roses.
Harison's Yellow rose in the author's landscape
Harison's Yellow rose in my landscape (photo by Linda Langelo)
Today this rose is found in many mountain and prairie communities across Colorado growing best in zone 3. This rose grows in cool, dry weather. It has sharp thorns and forms suckers on its own roots. The best part is that it is hardy. It tolerates full sun to part shade, drought, poor soils, and pests. It is said it takes more than one attempt to get this established. I have not found that to be so. My neighbor gave me permission to take one root and shoot from my neighbor's yard, and it is 5 feet tall and 5 feet wide three years later. Truly this plant thrives on neglect.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

My 2022 Garden Plant Wish List

 By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin Extension

 In a recent podcast I recently listened to, the cohosts were naming the top 3 or 4 plants on their wish list for 2022.  It got me thinking what would be on my list.  I am going to share a tree, a shrub, a vine, a perennial and an annual that are on my list to plant in my garden in 2022.  They may not be ‘new’ and exciting to you, but they are some plants that I want and I will tell you why.  I hope that by making this list, it will motivate me to get the plants and plant them!

 Our youngest granddaughter is 1 year old.  One of her names means ‘oak tree’ so I have been looking for an oak to plant for her.  I listened to a speaker talk about oaks for Colorado for the 2020 Plant Select online meeting but was unsure which of his recommendations would be the best choice for my mostly native, dry garden at 8,400’ in SW Colorado.  Then I happened to read an article by Lauren Springer where she recommended Crimson Spire™ oak, Quercus 'Crimschmidt', a hybrid between English oak and White oak.  Crimson Spire™ oak has a narrow form, 40’ tall and 15’ wide. It is hardy to zone (4)5 and tolerates a range of soil conditions.  I was in Lafayette this fall visiting my granddaughter and saw these Crimson Spire™ oaks planted along the street.  Although it is said to have a good red fall color, the color on those trees was just so-so.  Still, I think this is a good choice and I hope to find one to plant next spring.

(photo Yvette Henson)

The first time I saw a beautybush, Kolkwitzia amabilis, was in June 2019 in Cedaredge. There is a lovely little arboretum behind the museum that I always visit when I am in town.  I was captivated by the masses of pink tubular flowers on the 12’ specimen there but I didn’t know what it was.   I saw my second beautybush in late May this year in Paonia on a weekend get-a-way with my husband and then I was finally able to identify it when I saw it during a June tour of Jim Borland’s Garden in Lakewood after the Plant Select annual meeting.  Beautybush is hardy to zone (4)5 and tolerates alkaline soil.  Not only does it bloom in masses, but when the plant ages, the bark shreds, which is also appealing to me.  It is an old-fashioned shrub that isn’t planted much now.  However, I really like it and so definitely hope to find one and give it a place in my garden.


Beautybush, Kolkwitzia amabilis, in Cedaredge
(photo Yvette Henson)

close up of beautybush blooms
(Yvette Henson)

I have two places in my garden that need a summer-blooming climbing vine.  I have been indecisive about what to plant. Honeysuckle?  Akebia?  Clematis?  A climbing rose?  I will probably plant more than one vine, but my first choice is going to be a climbing rose I saw years ago on a class field trip when I was an undergrad.  I have never forgotten the blue rambler rose, Rosa 'Veilchenblau'.  It blooms once a year, with masses of 2” semi-double, citrus scented, purple roses with white centers and yellow stamens.  The canes grow 10-12’ long and it is hardy to zone 5.  I am hoping it is hardy enough for winters in my garden!


We planted our Plant Select demonstration garden in 2008.  One of the first plants we planted was cashmere sage, Phlomis cashmeriana.  It has proven to be a very reliable perennial that has stayed about 3’ x 1.5’ but it can get twice as large in the right situation.  I love the soft leaves and the interesting shape of the lavender flower inflorescences.  It blooms in spring/summer and the strong stems hold well through the winter snows.  It is hardy to zone 4 and grows well in sun or part-shade in any soil.   I want to plant it in front of my fig-leaved perennial hollyhocks, Alcea rugosa. The lavender flowers will go well with the soft yellow holly hock blooms.
Phlomis cashmeriana 
(Photo Plant Select)

An annual I would like to try again is Emilia coccinea. I got a few somewhere years ago but I didn’t have enough to make a ‘show’.  Somehow, I thought it might reseed with abandon and was worried it could become invasive, but I can’t find any documentation of that.  It wasn’t invasive where I planted it in the past. I was listening to a podcast where the gardener named it as her favorite plant of the year because it attracted so many butterflies!  I would like to grow the variety ‘Irish Poet’ because I like its orange color more than the red-orange color of the straight species.  Besides, I like the name.  It is a half hardy annual that reaches 1-2’ tall and 8” wide, so it will take quite a few planted to weave in and out of other plants to make a show. 

Emilia coccinea "Irish Poet' 
(photo credit Select Seeds)

I'd like to know which plants are on your 2022 wish list!

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Growing the Three Sisters

 By Irene Shonle, El Paso County Extension

Three sisters illustration (from

This coming summer I have decided to try growing the traditional grouping of crops called the Three Sisters – corn, beans, and squash.   This is one of the oldest companion planting groupings, first planted by Native Americans in many different regions.  It is rich in tradition and indigenous knowledge, and can produce a lot of food. The idea is that the corn provides the trellis for the beans, the beans provide nitrogen for the hungry corn, and the squash shades the ground and reduces both water needs and weed seeds. 

I have been growing beans and squash for a while now, but had avoided corn due to the high numbers of raccoons in my area.  Supposedly, the combination of the prickly squash leaves and the raspy, tangly bean vines reduces raccoon visitation.  We shall see -- I have the perfect conditions to test this concept.

For the three sisters,  it is traditional to use a flour or popping corn with taller stalks, a pole bean, and a squash. Many sweet corn varieties don’t have sturdy enough stalks, and bush beans do not climb up the corn stalks. I decided to go with a dry bean rather than a green bean, because I don’t want to be wading into the plot on a daily basis to pick green beans.   Sometimes a fourth sister is planted, which is traditionally a sunflower or a bee plant.  I have both growing in my yard, and they will probably be on the edge of the three sisters area as well as elsewhere in the garden. These help to draw in pollinators.

It’s been fun figuring out what specific varieties I will grow. I do not have an easy way to grind flour, but I am a popcorn fan, so that’s what I decided to go with. Glass gem has irresistibly beautiful multi-hued kernels, and grows at least 6 feet tall. It’s also supposed to make yummy popcorn, and can double as a decoration.   For the beans, I want a variety that is harder to find in stores, so I am currently leaning towards the Hopi red bean, which is supposed to make wonderful chile.  I considered Gigante beans, which I would really like to try, but I have a feeling that they may be a little too exuberant.  Maybe I’ll try growing a few up some of my giant sunflowers (they were 15’ tall last summer), if I can find the seeds (they are hard to come by in this country- I may have to resort to ordering a pound of beans intended for eating).  Finally, for the squash variety,  I will likely plant a couple of summer squash varieties and perhaps either a Lakota squash (which is a cultivar derived from a landrace grown by Native Americans in Nebraska and crossed with a Hubbard:  and somewhat deceptively named: or a pink banana squash.


How to grow:

Test your soil first. Corn is a heavy nitrogen feeder (even with nearby beans), and squash will be more productive with fertile soil.  Adding compost before planting can be helpful to provide a little extra water-holding capacity and to improve soil structure and a add a few nutrients.

Zuni waffle garden. Photo Credit: A:shiwi A:wan Museum Photo Archives

There are many, many different suggestions for the layout for planting, with different layouts traditional to different areas of the country.  Because I live in a hot, dry area, I intend to use the traditional Zuni waffle garden design to conserve water.  The waffles are created with raised soil edges, and they are almost the opposite of raised beds.

Probably one of the biggest considerations for the planting design is to plant the corn in blocks so they can become adequately pollinated.  Also, grow only one variety of corn to avoid cross-pollination.

Three sisters planting diagram (c=corn, b=bean, s=squash)

I am going to plant in a 15x15’ area, with 9 ‘waffle’ squares.  In the center of every other waffle, I will plant the corn in a circle about 18’ diameter, and will plant 5 seeds of corn, with one in the middle, and the rest evenly spaced. There will be five blocks of corn, which should provide reasonable pollination. The squash will go in alternating waffle squares (so, four squares).

Once the corn is 4” high, I will plant the beans (one per corn plant).   It is a good idea to soak the corn and bean seeds before planting for at least 8 hours.

Friday, December 10, 2021

A Winter To-Do List to Enjoy the Outdoors

Posted by: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

With the warm fall weather we have had, it’s hard not to take advantage of the nice temperatures and be outside! Even with low temperatures, and hopefully snow (fingers crossed), winter is also a lovely time to be outside and enjoy the scenery! Spending time outdoors is always beneficial for our mental and physical health. While you are out enjoying the fresh air, here are some things to do and observe:

  • Look for tiny critters. Most insects and arthropods overwinter in a diapause state (dormancy), but you may see some activity on warm days. While winter watering my landscape, I came across the larvae of a brown lacewing (Family: Hemerobiidae)! Lacewings are excellent beneficial insects in our gardens because they feed on pests, especially aphids! Recently, I also came across a Say’s stink bug, (Chlorochroa sayi). Stink bugs overwinter as adults, usually finding a safe, warm place under leaf piles and other debris. The Say’s stink bug will slowly turn from green to brown as fall and winter approach. For more information on how insects survive the winter, check out the following blog post: How Insects Survive Winter 

Say's stink bug. Photo: Lisa Mason

Brown lacewing larva. Photo: Lisa Mason

On warm days in winter--usually above 50 degrees--you may observe honey bees out flying. Honey bees cluster in the hive most of the time, but on warm days, they leave the hive to go on a cleansing flight to relieve themselves. They may also seek out water and food sources. Honey bees feed on the honey stores in the hive, but occasionally you may see them at bird feeders picking up bits of protein from seeds and cracked corn. Learn more about Where Do Bees Go in the Winter?

  • Notice plants that provide winter interest. Plants also go through a dormant stage during the winter, but many plants still provide beauty and interesting characteristics to your garden and landscape. One of my personal favorites is rabbitbrush (Ericameria nauseosa) and varieties like Baby Blue rabbitbrush (Chrysothamnus nauseosus var. nauseosus). Rabbitbrush is an interesting plant all year around, but in the winter, the seedheads and stalks provide a golden color and interesting texture to the landscape. Here are some examples of other plants that provide unique winter interest: Four Native Plants for Winter Interest and Winter Interest with Plant Select® Plants in the Western Garden
Rabbitbrush along a trail. Photo: Lisa Mason
  • Provide water and food for the birds. During the summer many birds feed on insects and other arthropods. Once winter arrives, food becomes scarce and backyard birds tend to feed on seeds and fruits. Check out the Winter Bird Feeding guide by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for details on how to provide the most nutritious food for birds during the winter. If you are interested in providing long-term habitat and nutrition for backyard birds, consider adding native plants to your landscape. Check out this Colorado guide on Native Plants for Birds. Fresh water is also critical for birds, and can be hard to come by in the freezing temperatures. Be wary of birdbaths that can crack with freezing water. Consider birdbaths that have a built-in heater. Providing food and water for birds in winter provides them needed resources, and can bring joy from watching the birds visit your yard.
A black-capped chickadee is a common visitor at birdfeeders in Colorado. Photo: Pixabay
  • Take up birdwatching as a hobby. Speaking of birds… Winter is a great time to go birdwatching!  Without the leaves on the trees, sometimes birds are easier to observe. Many birds take up residence in Colorado during the winter. Some bald eagles are residents--you can observe them in Colorado all year around. Others migrate to Colorado for the winter! The population of bald eagles increases during the winter months for a variety of reasons including the available of food. Read more about why bald eagles migrate to Colorado for the winter in a blog post by the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies. Colorado normally has around nesting pairs of bald eagles, and in the winter more than 1,000 are expected to come through Colorado! Learn more about where to observe bald eagles near you.

Another winter migrant raptor you may observe are rough-legged hawks. They live in the arctic tundra during the summer where they breed. For winter, they migrate south and inhabit Colorado and much of the United States. Rough-legged hawks received their name because they have feathers that extend down to their feet.

You may observe great horned owls in the wintertime because they are courting! You can often hear them hooting and see their silhouettes in the trees. Courting begins in December and January—one of the earliest bird species to begin the process of mating. Great horned owls are often crepuscular meaning they are active in the twilight hours.

You can participate in the 122nd year of the Christmas Bird Count, one of the oldest organized citizen/community science programs in existence. Anyone can volunteer whether you are a beginner or advanced birder. Check out the National Audubon website to participate in a location near you.

A great horned owl. Photo: Pixabay

  • Water your landscape. Colorado had another dry year. Currently the Denver area has not seen snow in over 230 days! This is the second longest period without snow on record. Many other areas of Colorado are experiencing severe drought. Landscape plants will benefit from extra water to get them through the winter. Winter watering can prevent root damage and help the overall health of your plants. Anytime we have a prolonged period of dry, warm weather in the fall, winter, and spring, consider watering your plants when the weather is above 40 degrees. Apply water during the warm part of the day so it has adequate time to soak in before temperatures cool down. Prioritize wateri
    ng newly planted trees and shrubs, followed by trees in your landscape. Don’t forget to water your lawn and perennials. For more information, check out the CSU Extension fact sheets on Fall and Winter Watering, and Watering Your Landscape During a Drought.

Winter is a wonderful time of year to explore the outdoors and notice the beauty in our surrounding environment. Enjoy the fresh air, cool temperatures, snow, plants, birds, and other wildlife that make Colorado a wonderful place to live!  

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Care of Holiday Plants

 By Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension

Celebrating the dark days of winter includes bringing in a few houseplants, and stores are filled with holiday foliage.  Pick up a poinsettia - they’re a treat for the eyes - then look at some of the other festive indoor plants. Small pines, aromatic mini-trees, and flowering cacti are the perfect touch for your d├ęcor.
When the tag says “place in bright indirect light,” it means closely in front of, but not touching, an east or west facing window or one foot away from a south facing window.  For direct light, place it closer to the south window.
For longest bloom, keep in a cool room, with nighttime temperatures of 55 to 60 degrees; during the day, set the thermostat between 65 and 68.  These cooler temps will keep blooms lasting longer.
Feed with a balanced fertilizer.  Most houseplant food is 20-20-20, but many winter bloomers only need a half-strength solution until later in spring, when robust growth starts up again.  Check the tag for feeding instructions before dosing the plant with too much fertilizer.
Then follow these quick tips for different plants:
What:  Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) plants are small, evergreen, aromatic, edible additions to your home.  Resembling small fir trees, the dark green foliage is used in cooking.
How:  In stores, rosemary is often root-bound, so if you want to keep them long after the holidays, transplant them into a pot at least twice as big as soon as you get them home.  Use light, loose, potting soil, then soak the newly planted pot in a few inches of water for an hour to get it saturated.
Location: Rosemary prefers a cool, sunny location with high humidity; place them on pebble filled saucers filled with water to increase moisture around the plant.  Frequent misting is also helpful.  Keep the soil on the dry side and water once the soil is dry to the depth of your first finger knuckle.
What:  Christmas cactus (Schlumbergera bridgesii), a succulent, can be told apart from its cousin, the Thanksgiving cactus (Schlumbergera truncata), by its rounded “teeth” on the leaves (Thanksgiving cacti have pointed teeth). 
How:  During bloom, keep in bright, indirect light in a cool room and let dry slightly between watering.  If the leaves wrinkle and flowers fall, the plant is too dry or too warm. 
Feed:  Once bloom is finished, fertilize once per month from April through October. 
What:  Norfolk Island pines (Araucaria heterophylla), are small evergreens with soft foliage.
How:  These little trees, native to the South Pacific, will not survive our Colorado weather so keep them indoors in bright light and out of direct afternoon sun.  Take care not to let it dry out in our low-humidity homes.  Water when the top inch of soil feels dry, discarding water that collects in the catch pan. 
Feed:  From April through June, use half-strength fertilizer twice per month.  Feed monthly for the rest of the year. 
Tip:  For healthy, bright foliage, mist with water twice per week for healthy, bright foliage.
What:  Christmas pepper (Capsicum spp.).
How:  Moist soil and full sun keeps the foliage lasting, but for glossy, plump fruit, place this plant in a room with cool temperatures.  This annual is finished when all the fruit drops off, so compost it when the display is over.
Tip:  If the oils from handling get into eyes or on skin, this pepper can be irritating.  Choose a visible but out of the way area for this plant to keep kids and pets safe from its sting.

What:  Amaryllis (Hippeastrum spp.).
How:  Choose a spot with bright, indirect light and keep the soil moist but not soggy.  Deadhead spent flowers soon after they fade, and continue to care for the bulb after blooming is finished – Amaryllis will rebloom year after year.
Feed:  After the shoot appears from the bulb, feed twice per month.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Give the Gift of Pollination

Posted by John Murgel, Douglas County Extension

For many, December brings gift-giving.  One of my favorite things to do in recent years is to give people in my life gifts from or for the growing season—a nice reminder of summer in the dark of winter.  Sometimes it’s even snowy at this time of year.

 While we can’t see most pollinators as they “slumber” through the winter, here are some ideas to keep them front-of-mind for you and for your loved ones!

 1. Pollinator houses.  They come in all shapes and sizes, can be bought pre-made, as a ready-to-assemble kit, or be home-made.  Just be sure to have tailored the home for the pollinators you’re trying to attract.  For cavity-nesting bees, this means deep enough cavities to allow for multiple eggs to be laid, and something that is cleanable from year to year.  Avoid butterfly houses, though—butterflies don’t use them, and they can be a perfect home to European Paper Wasps, voracious predators of caterpillars.  If you purchase (or receive) a pollinator house with both bee cavities and butterfly slits, simply cover over the butterfly portion with fine screen, or fill them with caulk, wood filler, or another wasp-barrier of your choice.


A pollinator hotel with butterfly shelters closed.
Fill in the "butterfly shelter slits," marked here with blue "x"s.

2. Plants.  Seeds and gift cards to garden centers can be a great way to give plants without saddling someone with a potted perennial to keep alive until spring.  Consider including seeds for designed gardens—many free designs can be found from both PlantSelect® and the Colorado Native Plant Society.  Or build a garden around a theme, like providing host plants—either food for caterpillars (if you don’t have paper wasps!) or nesting cavities for bees--and food plants for the adult forms of a single pollinator type.  Don’t forget to include registration information for Native Bee Watch so pollinator observations can contribute to our understanding of wider population trends.


A flowering garden.
A "designed" pollinator garden with native and introduced plants.

3. Pollinator ID materials.  Whether you have a budding young entomologist on your hands or are an enthusiastic amateur with no time for technical language, resources for pollinator identification abound.  Consider books like The Bees in Your Backyard, publications from the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, or CSU.  Many online suppliers carry nets and collection aspirators for up-close viewing for the hard-core insect person.

 4. Photography supplies.  Smartphone cameras are amazing these days, and many attachments and pairable devices are available to enhance their capability to get captivating shots of invertebrates, including pollinators.  I’m notoriously good at destroying nice things, so for under $50 this year I purchased both a clip-on close-up lens and a wide-angle lens for my phone and a portable microscope that connects via WiFi.  The photos are great.  More expensive options are out there too, for people who aren’t as clumsy as I am.


Close-up of cabbage worm
An imported cabbage worm--photo taken by yours truly with a cheap lens.

Have fun and be creative, and have a wonderful holiday season.

Monday, November 29, 2021

Don't Forget About Mulch!

If there is one tip I could give for just about any landscape situation, it would be mulch. Mulching is a great thing to do for your soil and your plants, and a great natural way to keep weeds down. There are many types of mulch and using them correctly can be beneficial for many reasons.
A mulch is a material that is applied to the soil surface. Mulches function to protect and improve soil. Different types of mulch have different advantages for your landscape. Generally speaking, mulches reduce the amount of moisture that evaporates from the soil, which conserves water. Mulching a planting bed can reduce the need to water by 50%. Mulches also stabilize soil temperature. This can be beneficial for shallow rooted plants that are susceptible to freeze damage during the winter. Many mulches will help improve the structure and fertility of the soils they are added to. For some types of mulch this may require mixing them into the soil at some point during the year. One of my biggest gardening battles has been with controlling weeds. Mulch can inhibit the germination of weed seeds, which is a big help! Your trees will also benefit from mulching around the trunk. Trees that have mulch around their trunks grow larger and healthier than trees that have turf growing all the way to their base. The mulch “donut” should be two to three feet wide. Leave two to four inches of bare ground near the base of the trunk, if it is touching the trunk it increases the chance of your tree suffering from girdling roots. There are two categories of mulch, organic and inorganic. The difference between the two is that organic mulches were once alive, and inorganic mulches were not. Grass clippings are an easily obtainable organic mulch. They are perfect to mulch a vegetable bed. Add a 1/4-inch-thick layer and let it dry before adding the next layer. Adding a couple sheets of newspaper (avoid glossy sheets) under the clippings will give extra defense against weed seeds. Make sure you are not using clippings that have been treated with herbicides, which can be harmful to your vegetable plants.
Wood chips are another popular choice of organic mulch. They are good for areas that do not need the soil worked every year, such as between raised beds or in perennial plantings. They are better suited for the soil surface, working them into the soil (without composting them first) can tie up soil nitrogen, leaving an insufficient amount for your plants.
Pea gravel is an example of an inorganic mulch. It is visually appealing in a landscape area where you don’t have plants, or where your plantings are permanent. It can cause heat to build up around plants, however, which may increase water requirements, so it is better suited for water wise, heat tolerant plants.

Friday, November 19, 2021


November in the Garden

By Patti O’Neal

Jefferson County


The year is winding down, and for the most part, so are our gardens.  There are still many tasks that can be accomplished.  Some of us are just done for the year and want everything cleaned up and ready for next year, while others of us continue to push the limits of our gardens to produce yet more.

Either way, there are things that can still be done to care for our gardens, tools and wildlife.     

The weather has been beautiful this fall, so I hope you have been watering your trees and shrubs and any newly planted perennials to get them stored up for winter.  As weather may fluctuate going forward, remember to get the hose out at least once a month and give trees and shrubs a drink on lovely days when the temps are above 50 degrees and the ground is not frozen.  Water at the dripline for the most benefit to the tree. 

Apply tree wrap to young trees that may be positioned in your landscape to be harmed by flash freezes and cold temperatures.  Use appropriate material designed for this purpose.  Wrap well, over-lapping the paper or fabric about two thirds up the trunk.  Remember to remove the wrap mid to late April depending on weather.  Then wrap again next fall if needed. 

If you have not yet cleaned up all your leaves, use a mulching mower and go over them and let the small pieces mulch the lawn. 

If by any chance you still have piles, mow over them and use to mulch your flower beds with them, add to compost, mix into your vegetable garden beds, store a few bags for next summer when carbon material is harder to come by or if you have used all you can, donate them to a local urban farmer who will use them to regenerate their soil for the coming year.  Remember to leave some leaf litter in some strategic out of the way places for the native insects to overwinter safely.  Likewise, don’t clean it up too early, before egg hatch or you will throw the wonderful creatures away before they can hatch and begin to protect your landscape.  

Providing water is the single most important thing you can do for native insects and birds as well.  Place a bird bath where a heater designed for this task can be plugged in to keep the bath from freezing over.  This will give you much pleasure to watch them drinking and bathing during the next months.  In addition, don’t be too quick to cut down perennials that go to seed.  This is a rich food source for native birds as well as shelter for native insects for the winter.  If you enjoy birds, providing a rich source of fat starting as soon as possible (if you have not already) in the form of suet and rich seeds in squirrel proof feeders will encourage birds that do not migrate to enjoy your yard. 

Don’t put your tools away untended.  Now is the time to give them a good scraping of caked on soil with a wire brush then soap and water on the blades, taking them apart if possible to clean more thoroughly and drying well.   Use 00 fine steel wool to clean any rust from the metal surfaces and linseed oil to rub into the wooden handles.  

Hang long handled tools off the floor if possible to keep humidity from the metal parts and you can store hand tools in a bucket of sand with a small amount of linseed oil to keep them from rusting.  Pruners should be taken apart if possible, cleaned and sharpened and re-assembled and stored in a dry place. 


There is still time to plant bulbs if you have not gotten them in the ground yet.  The actual chill requiredfor bulbs is approximately 16 weeks and we haven’t even had that yet this year, so keep planting flowerbulbs and garlic if you want.  Then mulch them in well so they do not heave when the temperatures finally do drop. 

Make sure you have the proper season extension materials for any vegetable crops or sensitive plants that will need to be covered for frost protection.  Horticulture fabric, often referred to as frost blankets, can be found at nurseries and big box stores.  This fabric is designed to take any moisture and not harm the plants, unlike sheets and other household fabrics that hold water, will lie on the plant material and cause it to freeze rather than protect it.  It is helpful if there is a structure over the plants with which you can support this material to keep it off the plants and hold in any warmth the soil may have acquired during the day when the sun is out. 


If you have potted plants you have not gotten into the ground yet, here is a way to winter them over if you do not have time before the temperatures drop or you haven’t yet decided where you want to put them.  You can dig a hole in the ground and plant the pot and all up to the rim of the pot and winter them over that way.  Water and mulch and they can be planted next spring when you have allotted more time.  I love to use the large pots I plant my lettuce crops in once I have emptied them of my fall lettuces.  If you are a raised bed or in-ground vegetable gardner think of this as well.   The ground is already soft and so much easier to get them in successfully.  That way you do not loose them to procrastination! 

Store your crops appropriately.  If you have grown vegetables to enjoy over the winter months there are some key techniques you should know.  Not all crops require the same humidity or temperatures to hold successfully.  Make sure you have the proper storage areas for the various crops you want to hold over.  Of course, thinking of this earlier in the year, like when you were planting them, would help to inform which of those crops you could hold over most successfully, or give you time to construct  or purchase items to help you store them.  But there are still ways to find the most appropriate place in your home or shed or garage, that can host your crops to make them hold for the longest the most safely.  Consult the fact sheets below for charts and tips to help you get the best storage with the most flavor and nutrients from your crops.  

Work never seems to end in the garden.  But I wouldn’t have it any other way.  Soon the last of my fall crops will be done, except for the spinaches, leeks, carrots and chard that I keep going right up until Christmas.  They only get sweeter with a hit or two of frost, so they are easy to keep.  Then the catalogues start arriving and the dreaming portion of my gardening year begins again.   Happy Gardening!


Further Reading : The following fact sheets will give you additional information on completing the tasks mentioned above with evidenced based research from CSU and other universities.    

“Fall and Winter Watering,”

“It’s Time To Wrap Your Trees,”

“Winter Tool Care,”

“Frost Protection and Extending the Growing Season,”

“Storing Vegetables at Home,”

“Storage of Home Grown Vegetables,”


Monday, November 15, 2021

Healthy Soil- Too much of a good thing?

Recently I attended our annual forum where all the Extension staff across the state come together and we learn and share.  The sharing of programs, county issues and among us plant folk, plant and soil issues are the most telling.  There seems to be a common theme this year, gardens being over amended and a misunderstanding of organics and fertilizer versus compost is evident.  Both compost and fertilizer can be organic, but they are not the same thing. 

Compost image, Colorado State

I want to point out before I go further, that Extension and Extension staff have conventional and organic options on all our factsheets and that we all care about our environment, it’s why we have the jobs we do because we are passionate about our world.  I think it is very important understand and get the facts about your soil prior to adding amendment or fertilizer.  This is very similar to practicing IPM- Integrated pest management where you observe / monitor, proper id, learn more about the issue (or system), determine action, choose tactic(s), evaluate.  IPM is monitoring the situation, gathering the facts and doing something when needed.  So think of these similar steps in your landscape and how to improve your soil.  Get the facts before applying anything and to improve when you need to improve, plant the right plant in the right place and you will be successful.  If you have never done a soil test, this is the foundation of the garden and a good place to start.  The CSU lab is currently moving so not testing currently, other great laboratories that understand our Western soils are Ward Laboratories, Servitech and American Agricultural Laboratory Inc.

Once you pick a lab, stick with them as their procedures might be slightly different.  You want to be able to compare apples to apples down the road.  Please read how to take an appropriate sample and tell them exactly what you are planting (your crop): buffalo grass, tomatoes, plum tree- the more specific you are, the better the recommendation they can give you.

University of Hawaii Soil Management

Let’s go back to the word organic.  It was first used to describe the organic matter (basically plant material: leaves, roots, stems, & microorganisms) that is in the soil.  We still use it this way, but it has also morphed into products that are naturally based.  Here I am sticking to the original definition.  Our native soils in Western Colorado are naturally 1-2% organic matter.  This is why our native plants do not prefer high amounts of compost being added to our soil, it’s not what they are acclimated to.  Then somewhere along the way organic morphed into meaning using naturally sourced fertilizers and pesticides.  We know from experience and as shown in the soil pie chart that we want up to 5% organic matter in the soil for the general typical landscape plants and vegetable and flower gardens.  When soil test results get closer to this 5% organic matter, the need for nutrients like nitrogen will drop because it is being released of some nutrients from the organic matter (plant based and microorganisms).  This article from Minnesota gives a good explanation of other reasons too much organic matter is not good. Of course our soil is going to be different, but the having too much organic matter is the same.  We general have good minerals (phosphorus, potassium, sulfur) in our soils.  Occasionally we will see a micronutrient low due to the pH of the soil, high pH affects the accessibility of certain nutrients to specific plants.  Example: Silver maples have trouble accessing iron in high pH soils resulting in chlorosis.  Adding more iron to the soil doesn’t work unless it is chelated. 

Microbes in the soil, invisible to the naked eye-
                                                                    Colorado State
Example 2: Someone was having trouble growing vegetables, since the pH was high they continued to add sulfur, which was already at a good level.  This caused a toxicity of sulfur in the soil which causes a reduced rate of growth and necrosis.  Since we have high amounts of calcium carbonate in our soils and there already is enough sulfur, our soils are buffered which means it is very hard to change the pH so we focus on what we can change and improve.  So please do a soil sample, talk to Extension if you need more explanation, pick the right plants for your soil and you will be successful. 

Lastly, pick the right soil amendment if your organic matter is below 5%.  This includes using compost and it is ok to ask for a sample of compost and have it tested before you buy or use it.  Compost is a soil amendment, though it may help with nutrients down the road, it is not considered fertilizer or a major source of nutrients.

If your plants are needing fertilizer, than use the appropriate fertilizer. Here is understanding fertilizer.

Hopefully that helps in understanding that you can have TOO MUCH of a good thing.  It is like finding out that watermelon is good for you and you eat the whole watermelon, you might not feel so good afterwards.  It is important to keep things in balance.  By adding too much of one thing, other things have to become out of balance.  Look back at the soil pie chart, if there is too much water, there would be less air.  If too much organic matter, there would be less mineral particles, water or oxygen.  ALL are important. 

So hopefully if nothing else, you will do a soil sample and think about what your soil needs before you add something.

Susan Carter, Tri River Area Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent