CO-Horts Blog

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Downtown Flowers Signal Summertime for Puebloans

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

My favorite part of the flower display, in front of Pueblo Union Depot

These two are Craig's favorite containers

Every year, Puebloans are signaled to the beginning of summer when the huge, beautiful containers of petunias and geraniums appear downtown.

These beauties are in front of local boutique, Razmataz

Everyone loves the smell of fresh petunias in the morning

The Pueblo Union Depot, along with B Street and a good portion of Union Avenue get decked out with these blossoms every year in May, thanks to local business owners the Koncilja’s. The flowers are purchased from a local nursery, but you may be wondering, who cares for them and keeps them looking stunning all summer long?
Looking down B Street from the Union Depot

Patrons of the cafes on B Street get to look at these containers while they dine

Some of the containers are hanging, while some are on the ground

The answer is two guys, Craig and Brandon. We got an opportunity for an insider tour of the daily care of these flowers, thanks to the fact that Craig is my brother. Turns out it’s no small feat to keep these blooms looking brilliant during the heat of a Southern Colorado summer.
Craig with his trusty hose reel 

Turns out it doubles as a fun ride

A close up of the reel

Unless it rains, which is not something that happens often around here, the flowers need to be watered daily. Craig and Brandon have portable hose reels, that they wheel around downtown and hook to multiple different spigots around where the flowers are located. They must start early, not only to beat the heat but also to beat the morning downtown buzz. Turns out it’s a lot easier to stretch the hose out when the foot traffic is low.
Luckily he's tall to reach the hanging containers

The hose spigots have keys to turn them on

As they water each container individually, by hand, they also do whatever deadheading needs to be done on each plant. This keeps the plants looking nice and encourages them to keep blooming all summer long. Sometimes, when a plant gets a little leggy, they will trim them up to keep the shape looking nice and compact.

Right in front of the doors to the Union Depot

These containers are in Tandoori's courtyard

More beautiful flowers

Of course, water and TLC aren’t quite enough to keep the flowers looking their best. They also get fertilized weekly. The Petunias get fed with a 20-3-19 water-soluble Petunia Feed that includes Magnesium. The geraniums get a 20-10-20 general-purpose water-soluble fertilizer. To deliver the fertilizer, they use a Dosatron nutrient injector. First, they mix about 10 cups of the dry fertilizer in a bucket, and fill it with water, this is the concentrate. They then set the injector to the appropriate level and insert the hose of the injector into the concentrate bucket. The water supply is then hooked to the injector and it delivers the desired concentration of fertilizer into the irrigation water.

The fertilizer they use to keep the blooms looking beautiful

The Dosatron fertilizer injector

Pest and disease issues haven’t been too bad in the past. During really hot spells some of the petunia leaves will become sunburnt from the reflected heat of the sidewalk, and they have dealt with some small aphid infestations. Nothing a call to the local Extension Agent/sister and a strong stream of water couldn't handle!

Another view of Tandoori's courtyard

These lucky flowers get some morning shade

So, although it’s no small task to keep these flowers looking great all summer long, the people of Pueblo are so glad that they are purchased and cared for to keep our downtown looking bright and beautiful!

Monday, September 13, 2021

Posted by:  Patti O'Neal, Urban Food Systems Coordinator, Jefferson County
Fall is the Time for Seed Saving 
“Oh that is the best tomato I have ever eaten!”
 “Look at the blooms on that hyssop, and the color!” 
“Could those cucumbers be any more sweet or crunchy? I want those again next year” 
 How many times have you said something similar and wondered how to get that exact flavor, texture and color every year? You can always buy more seed – especially if you have journaled the scientific name of the seed of the plant you so love; along with the company name that produced or marketed the seed. But another way is to learn to save seeds from your favorite plants to plant again the following year and actually adapt them to your garden. It is one of my favorite fall gardening activities. 
 Can all seeds be saved?
 No. In order to produce a plant that is exactly true to the parent plant that you love and to exactly duplicate the flavor, texture and color you were hoping for, you must save seeds that are open pollinated/heirloom. Hybrid seeds, those with an F1 or F2 designation on their package or label, are created 2 distinctive parents (usually of same species) cross pollinated by hand to produce offspring with a predetermined set of characteristics. Those characteristics could be flavor, skin texture, number and color of petals, plant height and so on. What happens when you try to save those seeds and plant them is that the plant begins to un-cross and does not produce true to the parent plant. If you love a hybrid plant, (example, one of the yummiest tomatoes on the planet is the Sun Gold cherry tomato which is a hybrid) be sure to plant new seed every year. 

 What are the advantages of saving seed? 
You can promote and protect the rich diversity that open pollinated/heirloom seeds represent to our history. Seeds are most rich in their ability to produce diverse plant material and a richness in diversity so wide that the plants reflect the environment they are produced and grown in. 

 They have the ability to adapt to certain terroir and to retain the changes in their DNA – to remember and to display the changes. So, by saving and planting seeds from the best representatives of each species in our own gardens, 
 • we play a part in preserving genetic variety and biodiversity 
• we can preserve varietal characteristics we value 
 we can preserve varieties specifically adapted to your particular microclimate and soils.
 According to Diane Ott Wheatley, co-founder of Seed Savers Exchange, “Growing seed in the same geographic area allows the seed to adapt to local pests and climate challenges and requires less chemical pesticides and fertilizers.” 

What are the best seeds to save if you are a beginner? 
The seeds that will provide the best chance for success to save are:

  Beans 
 Peppers
  Lettuce 
 Peas 
 Tomatoes
 These plants produce seed in the same season as they were planted in. They are mostly self-pollinators so you do not have to worry about cross-pollination. 

 What are some basic tips for seed saving? 
Remember: Growing a plant to save seed is different from growing it to eat. Most plants will grow past the stage in which they are good to eat to the stage where they will stretch and produce flowers and from there, seed (i.e., lettuce, spinach)

or they will need to dry “on the vine” (beans). Plants like tomatoes, squashes, peppers will yield their seeds up during preparation to eat them. They can be dried out in various ways at that time. 
 Save seed from the very best of your plants. Those plants with no pest and disease issues, the best fruit producers, the best blooms, the best color; the best of the best of each species in your garden. 
Seeds aren’t viable until they are fully ripe. Watch the weather carefully and protect plants that are not fully ready and keep them dry. Keep plants healthy to the very end until ready to collect. This can be tedious but is necessary to keep the seed viable. 
 Cut seed heads or take plants from the garden and further dry out by hanging in a cool, dry, dark place until completely dry. 
 Separate the seeds from the chaff of the plants and store in glass jars or paper to keep dry and safe until ready to plant. Label carefully and make journal notes about the plant and it’s origin.

 What can you do to promote seed saving to others? 
• Share the seeds you save with neighbors and friends 
  Learn about Seed Libraries 
 Learn about Seed Vaults and where they are located 
 Learn about and visit a Seed Bank 
 Host a Seed Swap

 Saving Seed is a learned experience. It is sometimes frustrating and challenging. Yet, it has shaped the history of the food we eat. There is a small learning curve. As a home gardener, Don’t be so concerned with distances or number of plants at first. As your garden expands this will become relevant. It is more important to try saving seeds and to experiment, enjoy and value the process. Learning the basics and knowing when you can and cannot successfully save seed to produce the plant you so love will set you up for second round success and beyond.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Protecting our precious fruit trees from ravenous squirrels!

 A guest blog by Adams County Colorado Master Gardener Heidi Stark 

This has been a magnificent fruit year on the Front Range—peaches, apples, plums—so many luscious varieties that tempt the backyard gardener. However, those darned squirrels have figured out that my fruit trees are a smorgasbord for their summer dining. We have covered our trees in the past, but the trees have gotten rather large, and I wasn’t sure if my mesh netting would adequately cover the peach tree.

About five years ago, I purchased a bolt of wedding tulle. It was 25 yards long and about 54 inches wide. Since I am a sewer, I unrolled it, laid it on the grass, and cut it equally into four lengths, then sewed it together in an oblong. I had hoped it would cover my trees and keep the critters out. This year, I watched the webinar Carol O’Meara gave on April 30, “Protecting Gardens from Animals” (link for this recording is One picture on the Power Point was a tree using an umbrella frame as the support structure for the cover. Since I had recently acquired an old patio umbrella, I removed the canvas. We pounded a 10-foot piece of conduit into the ground right next to the tree trunk and placed the umbrella frame over it. It stands about 12 feet tall. We lashed the pole to the tree trunk with a couple of bungee cords.

Getting the mesh cover over the tree is tricky. It’s a little easier with three people lifting the cover up using additional long poles and even our pole pruner. Once we had the cover draped evenly over the canopy, we clothes pinned some sections of green bird netting to the mesh to make sure the cover reached the ground. Using garden staples, we tacked the netting down to the ground.

The mesh netting did tear at the apex where it sat on the umbrella frame due to the wind. Next year, I will reinforce this area to prevent this from happening. The opening did allow birds to enter and damage some of the fruit, but no squirrels were able to get into the cover (goal success!). We had a spot at ground level that was relatively easy to un-clothespin to allow access to pick the peaches as they ripened. The tree even survived a hailstorm that occurred on August 19. I watched the hailstones bounce off the mesh. In total I harvested well over 100 pounds of peaches off my backyard tree. Nothing says local like a fresh, juicy peach from your own backyard. 

We have now transferred the mesh cover to our Honeycrisp apple tree to keep those pesky squirrels out of our treasured apples. Within a couple of weeks, we will harvest the crop and the cover will go back into the garage for the next year! 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Leave it messy this fall

Posted by: Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension

 As gardeners, we take a lot of time to make sure our home landscapes look attractive and well-kept. Having untidy spaces can make us feel like we are slacking on our duties, and as the end of the growing season rolls around, many of us are tempted to get out into our yards to ‘clean-up’ our dying and dried-up plants. I’d encourage you to consider the benefits of leaving it messy, however.

Outside of our landscaped areas, Mother Nature has broken-down and taken care of dead plant material for eons. These plants, finished with their growth for another year, stand testament to the previous year’s successes and bear the seeds of a fruitful season. Those seeds not only have the opportunity over the winter to fall out and help start new plants next spring, but also provide necessary food for winter foraging birds and wildlife.

My Native Garden is wonderfully messy and stays
that way.

Keeping plants and plant litter on your gardens can also reduce soil erosion and promote water holding. Dry areas that don’t see snow cover for the winter can benefit by having soil shaded and mulched by plants that are slowly breaking-down over the season. Those of us who do have snow cover can watch as the old plants help slow snowmelt and hold moisture when warmer temperatures arrive.

Older plants can also provide visual interest in a winter season that has little. My penstemon heads sticking up from the snow always remind me of the beautiful blooms I enjoyed the past summer and remind me that a new season will be upon us before we know it. Seeing seed heads and older stalks wave in the wind or cast shadows on my wintery flower bed make the winter seem less bleak and more dynamic, which helps me feel better about life on a January day that sees below-zero temps and a frigid wind whistling around my home.

The coop garden always looks interesting in the
winter with the seeds providing food for the birds.

If you can leave your yard a bit messy this fall, I’d encourage you to do so. My only word of caution is to make sure you clean up in areas that will promote voles or other garden pests by providing them cover, especially around trees they might like to girdle. Otherwise, enjoy the fruits of your labor a bit longer and know that there will be continued life there after the snow recedes.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

What's in season at your farmers' market?

Posted by: Alison O'Connor, Larimer County Extension

For 24 weeks every year, I spend my Saturdays at the Larimer County Farmers' Market in Old Town Fort Collins. The market is powered by Master Gardener volunteers who support daily operations and part of my job is market management. It's been a Fort Collins staple for 45 seasons and we're proud to have over 100 vendors sell with us during the season and connect Extension to the community. 

So when it comes to growing produce in my own gardens, I'm not super motivated, because I have weekly access to beautiful fruits and veggies grown by experts (as well as meat, baked goods, dog treats, and more!). I know many of you are growing your own, but consider stopping by your local market to see what else you might need! Everything is in season right now. Thanks to Master Gardener Karen Collins for taking these photos.

Who else has made sweet corn a meal? Yep, it's that good.

PEACHES! I'm on a two-peaches-a-day meal plan.

If you're a "tomato head" you probably grow lots of different varieties already. But market vendors might have one that you just have to try.

Fresh flowers make the perfect gift...or addition to your home or office. The sunflowers, dahlias, and zinnias are in full glorious bloom right now. (On the left is Mitzi, Master Gardener and market vendor!)

I had never heard of roasted chiles until I moved to Colorado (I'm from Minnesota!). And now I freeze green chiles for fall and winter meals. Are you a spicy or mild pepper fan?

When I did grow summer squash, I never harvested frequently enough to avoid the baseball bats that lurked in the garden. It's nice to buy zucchini that is a reasonable size. My favorite way to eat it is to sauté with toasted slivered almonds and parmesan.

The diversity of eggplant is wonderful! And it's one of the most beautiful fruits.

Farmers' Markets support local agriculture and small businesses. Plus, they are fun to visit! Many have special events, live music, and feature local non-profit organizations. If you're in Fort Collins on September 11, stop by for the first annual Chicken Olympics. Backyard athletes from my flock will be competing for the glory...and the gold medal!