CO-Horts Blog

Monday, October 25, 2021

CSU Extension is Here to Help!


by Amy Lentz, CSU Horticulture Extension Agent, Weld County

CSU Extension has a TON of resources to help you with a variety of needs when it comes to anything ‘horticulture’ and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming to know where to look. I thought it would be a nice touch to our CO-Horts Blog series to have an instructional article on how to utilize these many resources that your CSU Extension experts have created for you! You can be sure that the information you get from CSU Extension is based on sound research and good practices, even if it's in a fun style like the current blog site you are visiting.

So, here you go…this is a summary of the different types of resources you might want to check out for more information on anything you can think of about gardening, landscaping, lawns, trees, flowers, vegetables, fruit and so much more! Links are embedded in each summary below in case you want to visit these sites and bookmark them for future use:

Resources from CSU’s Planttalk website are brief articles to introduce you to a wide range of gardening
topics. The subject material is focused on the beginner and offers other resources for further researching. The Planttalk website is also home to a full library of short gardening tutorial videos for those that prefer visual learning. Find these resources, along with a form to ask your question directly to Extension experts, on the Planttalk website.


 Fact Sheets are scientifically written and detailed articles that often include growing and treatment recommendations for everything from insect issues to recommended trees and shrub lists. Fact Sheets are peer reviewed and written by CSU Extension specialists, agents and other experts. These are great if you have an issue for which you need research-based advice. Fact Sheets can be found on the main CSU Extension Website under Publications.


CMG GardenNotes
 are very detailed chapter-style resources that are great for those seeking textbook style learning. These are utilized during training for Master Gardener volunteers and others at our annual Green School. You can find out more about Green School and access the complete set of CMG GardenNotes on the Colorado Master Gardener website.


Grow & Give is a program recently created by CSU Extension that teaches you how to grow fruits and vegetables and connects you with local donation centers to donate your excess bounty. Visit the vast resources on the Grow & Give website.


The CO-Horts Gardening and Colorado Mountain Gardener blog postings are more casual and fun resources where agents and Master Gardeners across Colorado write about random topics surrounding horticulture. You can subscribe to these blogs to receive the articles right into your email inbox or you can just read online. 

The CO-Horts blog website also offers a list of recorded Gardening Webinars that have been taught across the state by CSU Extension agents.  


Finally, probably the best part about CSU Extension is that you can contact your Local CSU Extension Office and Colorado Master Gardener Volunteers to get personalized help with your gardening questions! CSU Extension offices also cover many other topics that are useful to Coloradoans.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Halloween Fruit

Posted by: Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension

One of my favorite times of the year is upon us- Halloween! I love the opportunity to dress up like someone or something else, I love going around town with the kids and visiting with my neighbors, and I love stealing the occasional piece of candy from the kids’ stash. But my favorite part of the holiday is celebrating the fruit that takes center stage Halloween night.

Even our cat gets in on this Halloween tradition

A week or two before Halloween, my family chooses a few of the largest, heaviest fruits we can find and bring them home. We enjoy having them around the house before we massacre them, driving pins and knifes into their flesh and destroying their skin. We dig out the inside, then roast and eat the germs we separate from the mucilaginous pulp the fruit has produced.

Sounds like a really scary Halloween tradition, right? What might be most frightening is that this ritual takes place all across the country prior to and on October 31st, not just in the hills of northwest Colorado.

The fruit I’m talking about is, of course, a pumpkin. A botanical fruit, we tend to think of it as a vegetable, but it’s a versatile and fun squash that brings joy to millions this time of year.

Pumpkins are grown with ease in many areas of the state. While different varieties require different conditions, most that can be carved for jack-o-lanterns will require about 100 warm, frost-free days to reach maturity. Some pie pumpkins and smaller varieties can fare well with 20-30 days less, but having a microclimate that holds heat and protects pumpkin’s large, thin leaves will help ensure you get fruit that looks (and eats) like a pumpkin.

CJ Mucklow's harvest
from an elevation of 7300'!

While carving pumpkins tend to have a bit less meat than many pie pumpkins, nearly any pumpkin can be eaten. This time of year we love to make pumpkin muffins, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin bread, and of course, pumpkin pie. But it’s not all about the baked goods, either: we love roasted pumpkin mixed in with other squash, pumpkin soups, and if we can find it, pumpkin ice cream.

Routt County Extension Agent
Libby Christensen taking her
pumpkin to donate to the piggies

As you gather the pumpkins from your garden this year or buy them from your local farmer or grocery store, remember that even the pumpkins you carve are great food. No, you may not want to eat the dried-out flesh yourself, but this Halloween’s jack-o-lantern is a wonderful treat for chickens, hogs, cattle, and other livestock. Every year we toss our sad, depressing looking carvers to the chickens and they think Thanksgiving has come three weeks early. Locally in Routt County, the Pumpkins for Piggies program collects pumpkins for consumption by local hogs. And of course, pumpkins easily break down in a compost pile and help create additional organic matter to add back to the garden next year.

One word of caution before you throw your pumpkins out, though: take the seeds out before you compost or dispose of it in the chicken coop or yard! Seeds will not break down in a backyard composting situation and if not removed, you’ll have little pumpkins springing up in your compost, the garden, or wherever else a seed may sprout. Two years ago my kids threw one down our slide to see it explode at the bottom, and while the chickens came and cleaned up most of the mess, the next spring we were surprised to find a new, vibrant pumpkin vine cushioning their landing. A fun surprise for sure, but not an ideal location for a pumpkin.

Enjoy the fruit of the season and appreciate the wonderful, versatile pumpkin. It’s no trick- they’re a treat for all!

A portion of the pumpkins gathered last year for the Pumpkins for Piggies
program in Routt County. What a haul!
Photo courtesy of Meredith Rose, Community Agriculture Alliance

Monday, October 18, 2021

Leaf mold – sounds bad, but it’s a good thing! By Irene Shonle, El Paso County Horticulture


October’s cooler days and longer nights means that deciduous trees lose their leave--and gardeners must somehow deal with them. While many homeowners rake them and put them out for pickup, I recommend you not waste this valuable resource.

Bags of leaves- what a waste to haul them off

Past blog articles have discussed some excellent ways of dealing with leaves, including mulching them into your lawn (, or other composting or mulching projects ( and   A way to use leaves that hasn’t been addressed is making leaf mold. This sounds a bit off-putting, but it is a genius way to put leaves to good use. Leaf mold is essentially cold-composted leaves that break down due to the action of fungi rather than bacteria.

 Leaf mold is a valuable soil conditioner. It improves water holding capacity (something we all need in arid Colorado) because it can improve water retention in soils by up to 50%. It also improves the structure of the soil by lightening it and improving microbial activity. While it does add trace nutrients, it really isn’t considered to be a fertilizer – so additions of compost or other fertilizer is still a good idea, based on soil tests.

Leaf mold ready to use -Pepin County Extension

Creating leaf mold is simple. You can either create a large leaf corral (create the enclosure with wire or wood), and pile the leaves in there. You want to have a fairly big pile of leaves for best decomposition – a pile at least 3 foot wide and 3 feet tall is the minimum (or around 20-25 bags full). Thoroughly moisten the pile and let it sit, adding water and turning periodically. You can also keep the leaves in black plastic garbage bags, again adding water and poking some holes for air. This method may take up to a year, so be sure you have an out-of-the-way space for this. It can also be helpful to add a shovel full of compost to each bag.

Corralling leaves and moistening them - U Texas Plant clinic

 For fastest decomposition, shred the leaves before adding them to the pile. This can be done with your lawn mower, a shredder, a string trimmer or even jumping up and down on the dry leaves. Shredding the leaves will also reduce the space they take up, and will keep the leaves from matting together. Using freshly fallen leaves will also give decomposition a jump start. Freshly fallen leaves have a carbon-to-nitrogen ratio in the range of 30 to 1, which promotes  quick decomposition. Old leaves, including those that have been on the ground for just a few weeks, will have already lost most of their nitrogen content.

Leaf mold is ready to use when it's soft and crumbly. My favorite way to use it is as a mulch and or amendment in my vegetable garden (no weed seeds here!), about 2- 3 inches thick.  Leaf mold will not steal nitrogen from the plants around it because its already decomposed. You can also add it to new garden beds,  in containers to lighten the soil and improve water retention, or as a mulch around perennials. 

Leaf mold as vegetable garden mulch

There are so many uses for leaf mold, you might find yourself stealing your neighbor’s bagged leaves in addition to all of your leaves!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Gardening is Exercise

By Carol O'Meara, Boulder County Extension I recently underwent a health assessment which involved a lengthy questionnaire on how I care for myself. It was part of a getting acquainted process with a new medical company. Things went smoothly until the interviewer asked about any exercise I routinely do. I said “gardening.” She nodded and said she was interested in what I did for exercise, ignoring my input on my green thumb activities. I reiterated, “yes – I garden. Every day. Vegetable gardening.” Again, I got the nod without any notation on her questionnaire while she said “ok, so, no routine exercise.” In retrospect I should have remembered I was trying to impress, not frighten, them but my gardener’s heart was insulted. Taking a deep breath, I launched into what my friends describe as my oh-no-here-she-goes mode. “Gardening is exercise, and there are many studies that back this up,” I said. “And plenty of gardeners say it’s like Pilates or yoga. But in my case, let me give you a glimpse: imagine yourself in my version of the yoga Warrior position. This is where you stand with your legs as far apart as they can go front to back, forward knee bent, with your arms held out.” Patiently, she nodded. “Now, add in downward dog, bending at your waist until you’re eye-level with the mulch. It’s basically a downward dog who thinks it’s a warrior; I call it The Chihuahua. Hold the Chihuahua position while you pick every cherry tomato from the plants. It could be 30 seconds or 3 minutes. Are you with me so far?” I said with seriousness. Her stare became fixed. “Now, let’s sprinkle in the child’s game The Floor Is Lava – do you remember that?” I asked and she nodded. “You can’t put your feet anywhere else because you’d step in lava – or in this case, on your pumpkin vines. Keep holding that position until the tomatoes are picked; it’s strength training for all sorts of muscles.” “Walking through the garden is a game of garden Twister, where you swoop your torso around to avoid squirrel-netted grapes, trellis outcrops, and lean over dog fencing. It’s great for your glutes,” I note. “All this time the basket you carry can’t be tilted or it spills but it’s getting heavier and lopsided – that’s for your arms and shoulders.” “Pumping iron in a gym is fine for some, but it’s a whole-body routine when squashes and pumpkins come in. Some of them – pumpkins, Hubbards, and banana squash especially – often weigh 20 pounds or more. You’d better lift with your legs when moving them. And, while most of the other winter squashes are smaller, gardeners try to carry them all at once in a spectacular demonstration of the Human Wheelbarrow maneuver.” “This is just harvesting. Weeding, now there’s an activity to rival any rowing machine,” I say rocking back and forth while mimicking the grab and pull of the activity. She starts rocking as well, in small motions that suggest her subconscious is getting into the conversation. “Bend-and-pull and bend-and-pull, plus there’s the breathing activity, where you explosively scream ‘where do they all come from?’ It’s very therapeutic.” “Honestly, it’s why many gardeners have a spring training routine, to get our bodies ready for the rigors of summer,” I said. “It’s also why plenty of us have stock in ibuprofen manufacturers.” At this point, the interviewer acquiesced, noting that my exercise is gardening. I felt pretty good about making my point, but then she moved on to the next section: mental health. Looking up at me she said, “I think we have all the information we need.”

Monday, October 11, 2021

 October in my Mountain Garden

By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin Extension

 “I love how the air changes…you can feel it, you can smell it, and suddenly it is autumn.”  Melody Lee

That quote is a lovely sentiment that I find to be true, yet I transition slowly every change of season. October is the month I finally give in that fall is here indeed. It is an unbelievably busy and bountiful season of harvest dinners and harvest festivals, and  bringing in wild game and local meat. It is putting up apples and the last of the beans and tomatoes. In my mountain garden it is a race to harvest and put up the shelling peas, late cabbages and root crops.

Apples and pears that need to be made into sauce 

In October, my covered porch is laden with seed crops drying, waiting to be cleaned as well as sweet onions curing on racks.

'Walla Walla' sweet onions curing

perpetual spinach (Beta vulgaris cicla group) seed waiting for cleaning

This October is also time spent worrying that the potato tops aren’t going to die back before the ground freezes. If that happens the skins on the potatoes won’t toughen up enough for storage and the potatoes could be damaged.

Will I have to harvest these potatoes before the tops die?

 I am also biting my nails that my hardy red soba buckwheat crop that I grew to make gluten free flour will not ripen or that I will wait too long to harvest them and lose most of my crop.  Not only would it be disappointing to not have grouts and flour, but I would have to deal with buckwheat coming up in that bed next year.

Red Soba buckwheat (Fagopyrum sp.)
Isn't she a beauty?

Buckwheat's make gluten free grouts, are good cover crops and great pollinator plants!

And if that isn’t enough, it is time to mulch the root crops that are hanging on, to make covers for the crops that need to overwinter and to add to or build a compost pile with the remains of crops and fallen leaves. (I put plants that were infested with insects or disease in a trash bag or burn in our fire circle because my composting method is passive and create enough consistent heat to kill them.)  It’s also time to prepare the bed and plant garlic.  

Extra mulch to 'hold' parsley root in ground for later harvest

Hoops with cover over fall radishes

                Layers of pea plants (nitrogen) and partially composted dry organic matter (carbon) added to compost pile 
I sometimes plant cover crops like annual rye grass that dies with hard frosts creating a blanket to hold the soil in place over winter. I have decided instead of working in compost next spring, I am going to try my hand at no till gardening in my raised beds. I have read that the best time to begin this conversion is in the fall. So, the plan is to add several inches of compost and possibly manure on top of the soil in my beds and let this overwinter. Then I will plant directly into that layer next spring. We will see how that goes. 

 All this is why we garden, right?  I would love to hear about the harvest season in your garden.

Friday, October 8, 2021

Autumn Colors


Posted by: John Murgel, Horticulture and Natural Resources Agent, Douglas County

  The color I most associate with fall?  Blue.

Marigold flowers with sandwich board "the end is nigh" sign.

Don't get me wrong--I love pumpkins (and the spices that go with them), have nothing against sweaters, and can even tolerate the early sunsets and cold, dark mornings. 

 But I love my garden, and warm sun, and plants!  Thankfully, a few things can still be done for those who, like me, can’t get enough of their gardens! 

 Many fall garden activities can pay off big next spring.  Here are a few things to consider on the cold, cloudy fall days and to accomplish on the warm, sunny ones:


1.  Clean, clean, clean.  Remove any frost-damaged plants or overgrown, dead, or diseased annuals.  Disease and pest organisms often overwinter in plant debris.  Removing them from your garden will also make space for…

Dead rose bushes
Sure the mulch is tidy.  Wouldn't this look nice in springtime with some daffodils?

2. Fall-planted perennials!  The warm ground and cooler air temperatures (for a less stressful establishment) make for good conditions for many perennials to establish.  Some garden centers even have plants on sale!  Remember that your new plants will need watering through any prolonged dry periods in the winter—just keep an eye one them and give them a drink when the top inch or two of their planting-mix is dry and the temperature is above freezing.  And if you’re already outside digging, don’t forget…

Snowdrop Flowers
Galanthus (Snowdrop) flowers regularly bloom in January and February along the Front Range.

3. Bulbs!  Fall-planted bulbs can be some of the most rewarding spring plants in Colorado.  Most bulbs are well adapted to Colorado’s “continental” climate and moisture regime.  If deer are a problem for you, stick with daffodils (Narcissus varieties) or hyacinths (Hyacinthus varieties).  For a bright spot in late winter (sometimes as early as the end of January), don’t forget the snowdrops (Galanthus) and snow buttercups (Eranthis hyemale)!  Check your bulbs for mold, soft spots, and signs of insects before planting—avoid purchasing bulbs you can’t inspect beforehand!  Plant bulbs about twice as deep as the bulb is tall— the top of a 3” tall bulb would be 6” down, for example.  For an instant springtime container display, consider planting some of your bulbs in pots—4” plastic pots saved from other plants are my favorites.  Wash the pots and plant the bulbs in potting mix.  Water them well this fall, and tuck them in a shady spot of the yard, either under some leaves or under some frost-cloth (add a layer of hardware cloth if squirrels or voles are a problem in your area).  As the bulbs sprout in the spring, simply sink the plastic pots into your decorative containers.  If a late spring frost threatens, you can even bring the “liner” pots indoors to protect them!

4.  Finally, consider growing some perennials from seed.  Native and drought-adapted plants can be tough to find at nurseries in the spring, but seeds are often available.  Consider trying to sow them directly in place in the landscape, or into small pots.  For pot-sown seeds, treat them as you would bulbs grown the same way--water them after planting, tuck them someplace shady for the winter, and keep them from drying out by covering with leaves or frost cloth.  I like to pile snow from the patio onto my seed trays!  Check starting when temperatures are regularly above freezing, and meet your new plant-friends just in time for spring!  

Pink dandelion flowers
Focus less on the "dandelion" and more on the "pink"! These Taraxacum pseudoroseum plants are a great example of a plant you won't find for sale at the garden center, but seeds are readily available!