CO-Horts Blog

Monday, March 29, 2021

Weather can be our Friend or Foe.


Color to come, hopefully.
Last October, Colorado saw some crazy weather with cold weather come in after really warm weather.  Several days in early October were in the 80’s.  First there was a big wind event.  Then temperatures hitting below normal around Oct 13th, hitting just above freezing, followed by temperatures as cold as 11 degrees F and ended toward the end of the month with a big snow storm.  Of course the moisture was needed and appreciated, but rain would have been better.  Yearly average temperatures in mid to late October in the Grand Junction area are 67 / 41 Degrees F.

Plum Tree, pre-pruning, L. Masters
Plants, like people, do not like quick change.  Many perennial plants like trees had not had the chance to appropriately harden off, or acclimate, so they were ready for winter.  There are still trees that still have their leaves and not the normal ones like Oak trees.  This is because the trees did not have time to form the hormone that creates the abscission layer, causing leaves to drop in fall.  I predict we will see samples of tree damage from the cold for months to come.

Our fruit tree growers and the CSU Western CO Research Center in Orchard Mesa was tracking how the fruit trees were acclimating, or in this cause the lack of acclimating.  Here is what David Sterle reported in early December from the Western CO Research Center: “We are seeing between 10 and 40% dead (peach) buds after the freeze depending on variety. The bigger worry is probably the shoot tissue, and an important thing about the shoots is that from the middle of the shoot to the base there is a lot less damage. The damage in the tip 1/3 of the shoot is about 3 times as common as on the base. So from that point on I will only be looking at buds from the basal half of the shoot, where there are more live buds. We are recommending spraying Captan / Topsin / lime sulfur if possible to prevent cytospora from getting into the damage shoot tissue.  The good news is this varied by location and peach variety and some trees did go on to acclimate as winter went on.  And of course last year we saw a late frost that impacted the number of peaches that were available.  So I predict peaches will be at a premium again this year.

Checking for life, WCRC

Many of the growers have seen twig death.  No studies have been done on the combination of the cold combined with the drought, but certainly the drought has not been helpful.  Many of the peach growers worked to prune out the dead.  Typically over 50 % of the tree is pruned to stimulate new growth for next year, so it just took some modifying to do more tip pruning to remove the obvious dead.  Pending not having any damaging spring frosts, we should still have a peach crop.  But the wine growers have not fared as well.  Many wine growers have moved to grafted Vitis vinifera varieties of grapes, native to the Mediterranean area, that are hardy against phylloxera, which is basically a root eating aphid that slowly kills the vines.  However, these grafted grape varieties are not as hard.  It is expected up to 100% of these winery hybrid grapes are gone.  And sweet cherries are a very similar story.  Several of the local sweet cherry growers had just recovered from drought damage on their fruit trees.  Drought stress can affect trees for several years.  Areas in Delta County have irrigation that is very dependent on natural precipitation levels.  Recent drought years they have seen no irrigation in late summer or fall.

drought and insect damage, S. Carter

In doing multiple orchard visits, many of the orchards have decided to wait on pruning the grapes and cherries to see if they sprout.  CSU Research specialist Horst Caspari did a session for grape growers on how to prune and what to look for the cold damage.  Many will be depending on the vines sprouting from the lower portion of the vine, or may be replanting and starting over.  Last summer the grape growers in the area had to deal with possible smoke taint from the local wildfires.  Combine that with a decrease in visits to tasting rooms, and it has been a very bad wine year.

So, appreciate your local fruit and wine producers as it has been a tough year for them beyond what the rest of us have experienced.  Colorado climate can be a challenge to grow plants in, but when we are successful nothing tastes better.

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

Monday, March 22, 2021

Tips for a New Garden

By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin, CSU Extension

Certainly, success is a harvest of delicious, nutritious, useful and beautiful fruits, veggies, herbs and flowers that we grew ourselves!  However, in more than 30 years of gardening, I’ve learned the most from my failures.  My ‘failures’ always teach me something that helps me become a better gardener.

The main goal is a harvest 

The tips I share in this blog post are my own.   Other experienced gardeners will likely have a slightly different list of things they think are most important. 

First, learn by researching.  Colorado State University Extension has quite a lot of up-to-date research-based information to help you.  Check out our Grow Resources on the Grow and Give website, our Fact Sheet publications on the CSU Extension website, our Colorado Master Gardener Notes and our Plant Talk articles.  When you do an internet search, type in your search terms followed by and you should find information you can trust.  (I am sure you know everything you find on the internet may not be reliable.)  You can also find good information in most seed catalogs, seed packets and some books.  You can call your local CSU Extension office and they will give you even more local resources.  And you can talk with a successful gardener where you live and/or join a community garden. 

Then, learn by doing. This is where the fun is.  The first year I was at university studying to be a Horticulturist, I took Horticulture 101, which was like a ‘basics of gardening’ class.  That summer, I started a garden using my notes from that class as my garden ‘bible’.  It was an adventure to experiment with what I had learned in class. 

I try something new every year- last year it was to grow a radish seed crop.

Following are a few things you will need to research.  (You may even need to research some of the terms I use in this article.) 

Learn about your climate.  Find out your average last spring frost date and your first fall frost date.  This is your average frost-free growing season.   Find out your minimum winter temperatures and your maximum summer temperatures. Understanding your climate will help you make educated choices about which plants may be best suited for your garden and when to plant them.  For example, if you live in a location with a short season and relatively cool summer temperatures, cool season annual plants and hardy perennial plants will do better in your garden.  If you live in a lower elevation with long, hot summers you will do best with warm season annual plants and more heat tolerant perennial plants.  You can find information about your local climate in Colorado Master Gardener notes and on Colorado Climate Summaries website. 

Learn about your soil.  Get a soil test done.  If you include information about what you want to grow with your soil test submission, your results will come with recommendations about nutrients and amendments you may need to add (or not add) specific to your plantings.

Compost is a good amendment- add 1" to soil a year

Observe your microclimate.  Things like sun exposure, slope, wind, buildings, trees, etc. will inform you even more about what you can grow.  This will help you choose the best locations for your garden beds and where you may need to add wind breaks or covers to your beds.

My raised bed garden at 8,400'
takes advantage of a south facing slope (microclimate)
and season-extension covers.

What source and how much water is available to you?  If you have a well, you will need to have your well water tested.  You may need to choose more drought tolerant plants and/or supplement your household water with rainwater or raw water if it is available in your community.  You may even need to haul water. 

Decide if you want to grow in the ground and/or in raised beds.  If you have rocky or clayey soils or do not want to do a lot of bending, raised beds are a great option.  Ask your local extension office about  options to obtain soil to fill your beds. 

Once you have done your research, get started! 

Start small by growing something like
cut-and-come-again lettuce in a container garden.
(In this photo lettuce seed is covered by fabric until it germinates. 
The flat is tomatoes that are hardening off before planting out.)

Do not try to grow all the food your family needs the first year.  To do so will require a lot of time, hard labor, space, and resources.  I personally have not heard of many people, even popular YouTube homesteaders, who are able to grow all their food. However, you may be able to grow enough of your own leafy greens, green beans, squash, potatoes, or berries for a year or two -- just maybe not all at the same time.  These crops are all relatively easy and can produce quite a bit in limited space.  And they can all be preserved in some way so you can enjoy them through the winter. 

Perpetual spinach is a chard with tender green leaves and narrow stems. 
 It produces well and is slow to bolt in the heat of summer.

BUT just because you can grow it does not mean you should.  If you don’t enjoy eating something, why grow that crop?  Or if your climate is not suited to grow something, do you really want to give the extra space, time, effort and expense to try to grow it? 

Is it worth the extra effort to grow these tomatoes
in a short season with cool nights?

Timing is critical.  There is a short window for when you should start seeds indoors and when you should plant outside. I have failed to get a good harvest more because of poor timing than anything else.  Learn from failure. There is always next year to try again.

It took me about 5 tries to grow onions that sized up before going to seed. 
The secret for me was finding a good long-day variety and starting them early inside.  

Don’t forget to have fun and to enjoy the ‘fruits of your labors’.  It is rewarding to grow your own food and beautiful flowers and to share with your family and community.  You may even become one of those people who posts pictures of their homegrown meals on social media! 

Friday, March 19, 2021

New Grass seed before a storm? Why not?

Cassey Anderson, Adams County Extension 

As many of you who live along the Front Range may know we had a very warm and enjoyable first half of March. This led to the temptation to start getting gardens re-worked and the making of new plans. In my yard that meant working on our 30' x 30' vegetable garden since we're planning to build raised beds. As often happens a side project emerged. Last year we ground out about 50 stumps in our yard (yes, we have/had a LOT of trees!). As a consequence the area in between our garden and our shed became really bumpy and impossible to maintain last year, so while we had the rented super-duty hydraulic rototiller we also went over the patch in between veggie garden and shed and smoothed it out. Alas I did not get a before picture, but believe me it was gnarly! 

The newly evened-out area

Since nature abhors a vacuum I knew that I had to get something up and growing before the inevitable weeds grew in. I purchased a dryland mixture that shouldn't spread quickly through a local grass seed company and went to work. Of course we were working against a timeline as the snowstorm of last week was supposed to be moving in.

A proper stance is vital to good seed distribution 

When spreading grass seed over a new area it's important, if possible, to loosen the soil, if you can do this with something like a rototiller 6-8" deep that's the best possible option, if you're patching a smaller area a rake or a cultivator can work as well. Spread slowly and uniformly and preferably on a day without much wind if you can manage it.

The straw like bits on the ground are all future grass - hopefully

You should see grass seed on the soil surface fairly uniformly distributed. This is the point at which you get to start making sure that grass seed has the best soil-to-seed contact you can manage! This means making sure that the soil is nicely nestled into its future home for germination. Using a rake I find is a very effective way of getting a little bit of soil on top of the seed, enough to secure it into the soil, but not so deep that light and moisture cannot easily reach.  

Raking is a great upper body workout 

Once your seed is tucked in, you'll need to ensure it stays moist. This can be through natural precipitation (one of the main arguments for seeding in the spring) or through your own efforts (sprinklers). If the days become really hot you may have to water several times a day. A newly germinated seedling that dries out will die very quickly indeed! In my case I got almost 2" of moisture mere days after planting and the snow still has not melted so I'll be OK on watering for a while. Now I'm just hoping that we'll dry out soon so I can build my new raised beds, fingers crossed.  

Enjoy my gratuitous slow-motion seed spreading video. 
I spent far too much time trying to capture a good shot. 

Monday, March 15, 2021

Viticulture Exploration Opportunities in Colorado

Posted by: Miranda Purcell, CSU Viticulture Extension Specialist 

Temperature is the largest limitation to wine grape production in the state of Colorado. Dr. Horst Caspari, CSU State Viticulturist and Professor, has partnered with Russ Schumacher and Pete Goble of The Colorado Climate Center to identify areas new areas throughout the state that are viable for introduction, or expansion, of viticulture. This study began by exploring temperature patterns in Montezuma and Fremont Counties and recently expanded to assess the entire state. Data are collected from long-term Cooperative Observer Network (COOP) weather stations and the number of years in which one would expect a killing freeze is estimated using the Parameter-elevation Regressions on Independent Slopes (PRISM) Model. A weather event is considered a killing freeze if it meets the conditions below (two different scenarios based on grapevine species):

For cold hardy hybrid grapes-

  1. Hard spring freeze (28F or lower) after bud break (May 15th)
  2. Fall freeze (32F or lower) prior to harvest (September 30th)
  3. Rapid onset of seasonally-unpredicted cold air in Fall
  4. Deep cold early in winter (< -15 F before January 1st)
  5. Extreme cold mid-late winter (< -25 after January 1st)

For European grapes (Vitis vinifera)-

  1. Hard spring freeze (28F or lower) after bud break (May 15th)
  2. Fall freeze (32F or lower) prior to harvest (September 30th)
  3. Rapid onset of seasonally-unpredicted cold air in Fall
  4. Deep cold early in winter (< -5 F before January 1st)
  5. Extreme cold mid-late winter (< -15 after January 1st)

Low numbers of killing freeze years were observed in areas known for viticulture, such as Palisade and Grand Junction. The Gunnison and Dolores River Valleys and the Four Corners Region were also estimated as having low killing freeze years per decade. These areas would be suitable for European varieties (Figure 1). Southeastern Colorado could potentially be suitable for grape growing, but cold hardy hybrid varieties will have a better survival rate than European varieties due to cold weather conditions (Figure 2).

Figure 1. Estimated killing freeze years/decade for Vitis vinifera grape varieties in Colorado (1981-2017)

Figure 2. Estimated killing freeze years/decade for cold-hardy hybrid grape varieties in Colorado (1981-2017)

In addition to temperature, soil texture and access to irrigation water are also important considerations for aspiring viticulturists. The temperature data was overlaid with these two additional parameters to produce a map of potential viticulture exploration areas in Colorado (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Map of viticulture exploration opportunities in Colorado based on 1) temperature 2) soil texture and 3) access to irrigation water. Blue areas are best suited for cold hardy hybrid varieties and red areas are best suited for European (Vitis vinifera) varieties. 

For more information on this study, please visit the Colorado Climate Center. If you are interested in growing grapes, please feel free to reach out to myself, Miranda Purcell, CSU Viticulture Extension Specialist at There are also a number of resources available at, Dr. Horst Caspari’s website and in the Colorado Grape Growers Guide.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Anatomy of a Seed Packet

 Posted by:  Patti O'Neal

What has

v Performance Memory

v Power to feed the world

v Power to reproduce itself

v Power to adapt itself to a any environment and long-term easy storage

v  Is low cost or free



Although seeds look like they are dead, inert matter, they are, in fact, very much alive.  They are small, living things that are surrounded by a specialized coat to protect the living plantlet (cotyledon) and food source inside.  They are in a suspended state of dormancy and the goal of germination is to break that dormancy.  

Once dormancy is broken, the radical or root will break first followed by the cotyledon itself pushing up through the soil ready to become the transplant of your dreams if proper care is applied.

The germination process can be daunting; especially to a beginner.  So where does one find the best management practices for germinating and appropriately caring for seedlings?  One of the best sources of seed starting information is the very package your seeds arrive in.  Most all companies provide good basic information on each packet for the successful germinating and growing the seed you purchase from them.  This information will help you to avoid some of the most common rookie mistakes people make when starting seeds indoors or direct sowing outside. 

The front of the package will identify the Common Name of the Plant, the Botanical name, and the cultivar.  With this information you can make sure that the actual plant you were hoping to grow is exactly what you purchased.  It will also identify the plant as an annual, perennial, or biennial which affects how the plant is grown and what to expect in terms of performance.  Simply, an annual will grow from seed to produce a fruit or flower and expire all in one season.  A perennial may require a longer period of care as a seedling, but its life will extend for varying years to come. A biennial will grow and establish good base growth in its first year but not produce fruit or flower until the second.  This is important to know so you do not pull it out after the first year, assuming that it was a “bad” plant. 

The front of the package will also tell you if the plant is a cool season or warm season plant.  This means it will germinate and thrive in cool soil and weather or warm soil and weather.  Knowing when to plant each seed is critical to its growing success.   Planting in the wrong season will not produce the results you expected.  You will also find the designation for a seed produced organically or by conventional seed rearing methods.  Look for a USDA organic certification symbol to guarantee an organic product.

The back of the package also provides some critical guidance to planting success.  Sowing instructions are found here.  The recommendation for starting the seeds indoors or if they would succeed better if started directly in the soil is critical to giving your seedlings the best possible start.  If the best practice is to start the seeds outside in the soil, a recommended soil temperature will be provided.  Things like sun, soil, and water requirements to help you to place and care for your seedlings appropriately. 

Probably the number one rookie seed starting mistake is planting depth. Too shallow and they will dry out.  Too deep and they will not be able to push through the soil to reach the surface.  Making sure your seeds are planted to the correct depth can be critical to germination success.  Many seeds require that they be planted only ¼” below the soil.  Trying to make a hole that is only ¼” deep and covering with only that amount of soil is really difficult.  Best management practice is to place the seed on top of the soil and sprinkle the required ¼ “of moistened soil on top; much like you would salt a steak while cooking in the pan.  Do not press the seed or soil down tightly, but gently tamp lightly with a finger to create seed to soil contact.

The spacing recommendation on the package is designed for traditional row gardening.  If you are planting in a square foot garden or practicing intensive row spacing techniques, consult CSU spacing recommendations (see resources at the end of this article).  Days to Germination is an estimate of when you can expect to see your little seedlings pop through the soil.   Other helpful information on the packet is days to maturity – a suggested time to expect a harvest or bloom.  This is an estimation and will vary depending on the current climate conditions and the care given.  Likewise, the size of the harvest or yield of fruit or flowers over the season will vary for the same reasons.

Most packets contain all of this information.  Depending on the company, you may learn more about the source and history of the plant, various planting hints and cultivation suggestions learned from the company’s trial gardens.  Sometimes included is an illustration of the emerging seedling and any impressive plant characteristics.

Hang on to your packets as they are a valuable resource in your arsenal of beginning gardening success. The tips/information provided will help guide you to successful germination of your seeds and ultimately a great garden. 


Vegetable Planting Guide -

Block Style Layout -



Monday, March 1, 2021

Going Bare Root and Timing It Right

 Posted by Sarah Schweig, Broomfield County Extension

Bare root plants are sold without a container and, like the name implies, without any soil around their roots. They are dug up while dormant in the fall and kept in cold storage until time for shipping and sale. You may see fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs, small fruits, asparagus, various vines and other perennials treated this way. If you’re new to bare root plants, keep these basic pros, cons, and tips in mind.

Because bare root plants are field grown, they develop strong root systems compared to those raised in containers and controlled environments. A major advantage of this system from the consumer perspective is that bare root plants are relatively light in weight, making them less expensive to ship, and those savings are passed on to you. They do present some additional challenges, however, one of which is timing. Ideally, bare root plants should be planted within a few days of receiving them. Many catalogs and garden centers have options to pre-order bare root selections with a fairly small window of shipping, which hopefully aligns with the right time to plant. Some mail order retailers have an option to input your USDA hardiness zone and base your shipping window on that information. Purchasing when you’re ready to plant and your space is prepped will take away much of the stress of your bare root experience.

On the other hand, I passed an array of bare root plants for sale at a home improvement garden center over a month ago. The selection included everything from hardy kiwi to roses, raspberries, and strawberries. There was an enticing variety of options at the right price, offered at a time when gardeners are itching to get started with the season. The display was the gardener’s equivalent of checkout aisle candy, and I came pretty close. Considering I was there for drywall supplies and had a solid plan for my season already which included none of these plants, I can safely say I understand the impulse buy. Still it’s important to note that just because bare root plants are available, even locally, that doesn’t mean the timing is ideal.

Whether you purchased on the early side or the weather isn’t cooperating with your best laid plans, bare root plants will need some extra TLC until time to plant outside. They should be stored in a cool location until planting outside. The goal here is to maintain dormancy, and temperatures around 40 degrees are ideal. Because the plant is not actively growing, it won’t need much water. However, take care to keep roots from drying out completely. If you know it will be more than a few days before planting, another option is to pot up the plant in a container while still dormant, which will make for less work in maintaining the proper moisture levels around roots. Select a pot that’s large enough to accommodate the roots without too much disturbance.

You’re ready to plant outside as soon as you have decently dry, thawed, workable soil. Though properly storing your plants for an extended period can be a bit of work, the only hard and fast rule is to plant before any new growth starts. It’s a good idea to soak the roots for some time just before planting. Check specific instructions for your selection, but plan for a good drink of 10-20 minutes for smaller perennials, to several hours for larger woody plants. Just like the container, your hole needs to be large enough to place the plant in with minimal disturbance, without overcrowding or breaking the roots.

Bare root tree packed in sawdust (photo courtesy NCSU Extension)

Water the new planting well, mulch, and hold off (around a month) on any type of fertilizer. Slow leafing out is no need to panic, and a season or two delay in fruiting is possible, but
you should expect new green growth from your plant within the first season.

If you’re new to bare root plants, shopping can be a bit stressful because even with the plants in hand, the usual signs of plant vigor are absent in their dormant state. Keep these things in mind:

     There should be no signs of mold or mildew on the plant - check the packaging carefully, too!

     Give it a sniff - “earthy” smells are no problem, but there should not be any particularly strong smells. Anything that smells potentially rotten is a big red flag.

     Heavier is generally better - specifically, live roots and rhizomes will feel heavier than those that are no longer living and dried out. Often packaging will keep you from seeing or feeling roots before the plant is home, but one way to approximate this is to pick up a handful of plants of the same size. If one feels especially light in comparison, avoid it.

Take the plunge with bare root plants this season, and let us know how it goes!