CO-Horts Blog

Monday, February 27, 2023

February is a time for planning...a garden visit

Posted by Mollie Freilicher, Tri-River Area CSU Extension

This time of year, I find myself planning a lot - the year ahead, the garden, and travel, among other things. When planning travels, it’s easy to incorporate a garden or two (or several… travel companions willing) into your plans and is easy to start if you haven’t before. Or, you may be a pro at this and already do plan your travel around gardens you want to visit.

There are lots of ways to discover gardens to visit. For travel throughout North America, you can visit the American Public Gardens Association website or the American Horticultural Society website to see a map of member gardens. Traveling to Maine? See if you can squeeze in a visit to the Coastal Maine Botanic Gardens. Anchorage? Check out the Alaska Botanical Garden! 

Searching for public gardens in Colorado on the
American Public Gardens Association website.

Closer afield, we have over ten APGA-member gardens right here in Colorado, and more within a half-day’s drive of our borders. If you are member of a local garden you may even have reciprocal membership privileges or be able to enjoy discounted entry to other gardens. 

Many CSU Extension offices also have gardens to visit (see here for a few or search for “CSU demonstration gardens” in your browser). Of course there are also other, often smaller gardens that can be just as worthwhile to seek out--and you don't have to wait. There's plenty to see in the "off-season" too. You can even do some armchair travel using these resources.

rock garden and flowers
The Chinle Cactus and Succulent Society Garden
at the CSU Extension Tri-River Area office
in Grand Junction.

Visiting gardens as a kid with my family made a big impression on me and made some of the most long-lasting memories I have of those family trips. During many a winter or spring break, we would visit my grandmother who lived in California. We would often visit local botanic gardens with her and I remember many visits to the Alta Vista Botanical Gardens in Vista, CA. It was one of my first western botanical garden experiences and I can still vividly remember walking through the gardens with my grandmother, seeing plants I’d never seen before, and being surprised when a lizard ran across our path on a warm December day. A lizard! 

Visiting the garden was an activity that everyone enjoyed and, importantly, could do. It was accessible, with lots of benches for sitting, and had exhibits geared toward kids too. It was an easy way to see the local flora, some pretty far-flung plants too, and spend quality time with family.

We had other botanical adventures as well, including some well-known places like the San Diego Zoo (though the plants were not the primary reason for our visit), the Montreal Botanical Garden, and some lesser-known places like the Landis Arboretum in Esperance, NY. Closer to where I grew up, we would frequent several local gardens and arboreta. There was always something new to see, something new to learn about a place, and TONS of inspiration. 

terracotta pot with plant in it and signs that say "Notice my rhizomes." and "I grow from a bulb."
Engaging visitors at an exhibit at the U.S. Botanical
Garden, Washington, D.C.

yellow flowers with tower
Rudbeckia at the Montreal Botanical Garden,
from a trip with my parents. In the background
is the Olympic Tower from the 1976 Olympics.

Visiting gardens in different parts of Colorado has been a great way to get to know the state (last year I visited quite a few!) and I look forward to more botanical adventures this year. 

From a trip to the Betty Ford
Alpine Gardens in Vail in June 2022.

Visiting the Durango Botanical Gardens for
the first time in May 2022.

Let us know in the comments - what are your favorite gardens to visit?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Amaryllis: the bright spot in our long winter

 By Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension

OK, so I know we typically think of the amaryllis as a Christmas-season plant, but in the Routt County Extension office, they tend to be a Valentine's-season plant. The first week of February saw two of our newer specimens bloom, while over the President's Day weekend my trusty old plant finally burst with color (more on that amazing plant below). Before I go into the stories behind these plants, I want to share some information on what we call ‘amaryllis.’

What we call ‘amaryllis’ may not always be a true amaryllis. According to a great piece written by our friends over at University of Minnesota Extension, the genus Amaryllis comes from the Greek word amarysso, which means “to sparkle.” While these bulbs were imported to the European continent over 200 years ago, the plants we commonly purchase to grow inside are actually hybrids of the genus Hippeastrum and are native to Central and South America. Bulbs of both genus have been known to produce for decades.

The first example I’m showing here is a beautiful deep-red, single-flowered plant that lives up front in our office. The second is a gorgeous deep-red, double-formed plant that has recently moved to the space between my cubicle and our FCS agent Melina Bricker’s space. These plants rise above our walls and are enjoyed by all who enter the Extension Office and have attracted a great deal of attention. While they have both produced only one stalk this year, the flowers were long-lasting and very showy.

These plants are two of several that were brought to the office about three years ago by our dear friend and amazing Colorado Master Gardener volunteer Pat Tormey. Pat didn’t tell us the varieties she had, but she potted several amaryllis and brought them to ‘give away’ to CMGs or other interested parties. While we did pass a few along, we couldn’t help but keep a few of them. Given
Pat’s recent passing, we are so pleased we did since they are a reminder of Pat, her generosity, and the bright-spot she could always provide on an otherwise cold and dreary day.

The third example here is a bright orange or salmon-colored single variety, and its colors change a bit from year-to-year. Like the red ones, this one has produced only one stalk this year, but in the past has produced more. Like the other two, it seems to love the abundant, indirect light our office provides and has thrived here since I brought it from my grandmother’s assisted living center over seven years ago. Every day I see it, it reminds me of her, and when it blooms I think of the many, many flowers she grew over the years that provided me and others so much joy.

If you look at the photo of the salmon-colored plant closely, you’ll note the unusual ‘pot’ Grandma put the bulbs in. As I recollect the story, she was given the bulbs not long after she was married and had nothing to plant them in. Looking for a vessel that would hold them, she threw them into a hand-painted cookie jar that she had been given as a wedding gift not long before. As she was married in July of 1938, I figure these bulbs have been in this cookie jar and blooming every year for nearly 85 years! I suppose I should do something different with them, but as the adage says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” As such, they’ll likely continue to live in the cookie jar until they simply give out.

Do you have an amaryllis with a story? If so, share it in the comments below. If not, plant one soon and share it with family and friends; start your own amaryllis story that will help others remember you for decades to come.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

I love you, here's a plant!


posted by: John Murgel, Horticulture and Natural Resources Specialist, Douglas County


Giving flowers to someone you love on Valentine’s Day (or other occasions) seems so stupendously commonplace that it’s hard to imagine a time when it was not done.  Perhaps such a time didn’t really exist—the emotional relationship of humanity with plants seems to be of longer duration than any other intentional relationship with other organisms.  The oldest known grave site ornamented with flowers, for example, is somewhere in the neighborhood of 12-13,000 years old.  Plant permeate our lives, in friendship, courtship, weddings, grand events, weddings, and funerals.

 Recent studies have shown the benefits of human interaction with plants as well, from gardening to having a plant on the windowsill.  Notable are reduced anxiety and stress, increased physical fitness, decreased depression, greater happiness and life satisfaction, increased creativity, enhanced memory retention and reduced effects of dementia, and increased “friendliness.” (Summarized in Hall and Knuth 2019).

 While wellness benefits can be derived from any plant; a few plants are particularly successful in captivating our symbolic sensibilities.  Among those that will be featured prominently in many a human relationship today are roses, violets, and chocolate.  Here are some “fun facts” that you could use to impress your date (or bore people at dinner parties).



Roses are one of the most popular flowers for gift-giving and laden with symbolism of every type for every color.  They’ve also got a local connection—the oldest known fossil rose (about 35 million years old) is from Colorado! 

Roses have also been declared the national flower of the United States of America, a position they’ve held since 1986.  With 110 wild species of roses and countless cultivated varieties, I think this makes a nice homage to a diverse nation.  Roses are also tough plants and can be very long-lived.  If you’ve ever tried to remove an established rose bush you are likely quite familiar with the strength of roots and incessant re-sprouting from any fragments left behind.  In fact, the oldest known living rose, the “Millennium Rose” in Hildesheim, Germany, is at least 700 years old and survived not only the firebombing of the cathedral on which it grew during World War II, but also the subsequent bulldozing and rebuilding of the structure, only to resprout to again cover the wall of the apse of the building!  Now there’s a plant that means business.  What better way to symbolize undying love to someone special!?



Violets are perhaps less popular today than in times past as a gift plant, having given way to showier things.  They have been cultivated, though, for at least two millennia, and were a symbol of the city-state of Athens.  The sweet violet, Viola odorata, has a reputation for its fleeting, sweet smell.  Legend has it that violets would actually steal your sense of smell, but it seems that the volatile compounds produced by the blooms actually contain a component that can temporarily overwhelm olfactory reception.  Perhaps because of this temporality, violets have become associated with death and memory as well as love, and a reminder of the fleeting nature of life.  Poignantly, Napoleon picked violets from his first wife’s (Josephine) grave to take with him to his final exile on St. Helena—a man with much to regret and much to be ashamed of taking solace in a deep botanic connection at the end.



 The average American consumes about 11 pounds of chocolate each year.  If that makes you feel uncomfortable, consider that it’s only about half of what the average person in Switzerland eats.  A perennial topic seems to be whether or not dark chocolate is “good for you.”  The answer:  an unsatisfying “maybe”, at least for now.  Chocolate is a variable product, and studies of its health benefits are usually on individual chemical components rather than on a chocolate product (Rusconi, M and Conti, A 2010. Theobroma cacao L., the Food of the Gods: A scientific approach beyond myths and claims. Pharmacological Research 61:1 pp5-13).  For now, justify enjoying it based on its deliciousness rather than on health benefits!   


If you’re giving someone a plant today (and I hope you are), enjoy both the individual plant and moment, but take time to reflect on the deep well of human experience with which you are connected in doing so.  Perhaps one could say that humans love plants best of all.

Monday, February 6, 2023

A Hankering for Houseplants

Well folks, we've reached February. That means that spring, and the garden preparation that comes along with spring, is not that far away. While we're still hunkered down indoors though, I thought we could take a moment and circle back to our friends, the houseplants. Through the bleakest parts of winter, our houseplants bring us life, joy, and a reminder of what's ahead. For those of us without a garden or yard, our houseplants play that role all year-round. So, in honor of our houseplants and the special place they hold in our hearts, let's talk about a few of my favorites! 

Today, we're going to shine the spotlight on three plants with very unique foliage: the UFO plant (Pilea peperomioides), angel wing begonia (Begonia spp.), and triostar stromanthe (Stromanthe sanguinea). All three of these plants are fairly easy to grow (note: the triostar stromanthe is a bit more particular about moisture), but if you're a beginner and want to start with some truly beginner-proof houseplants, check out our latest houseplant post here

UFO Plant (Pilea peperomioides).

Native to China, the UFO plant (Pilea peperomioides) has become a popular houseplant in recent years, largely due to its ease in propagation. While many houseplants are propagated via cuttings (which require time and patience as you wait for your cuttings to take root), the UFO plant also self-propagates by producing offshoots, or babies, at the base of the plant. These rooted babies can be easily separated and shared with others, giving this plant its other common name, "the friendship plant".

The UFO plant gets its name from its circular leaves, which extend from stems that are centrally attached to the base of the leaves. This type of leaf is referred to as "peltate", and gives the appearance of the leaves floating in space (hence, UFO). The leaves of this plant prominently grow towards the light, so you'll want to rotate your plant to keep it growing symmetrically. (In case you're interested in the mechanism behind this well-known phenomenon: a plant growth hormone called "auxin" concentrates where there is less light exposure, stimulating the growth of cells on the side of the plant that receives less light. As a result, the side that receives less light elongates, while the side that receives more light doesn't; together, this causes the plant to bend towards the light.) 

Like many houseplants, this plant benefits from bright, indirect light; while it can adapt to less light, less light will likely result in a  more leggy plant. You'll want to pot the UFO plant in a well-draining medium, such as one largely made of coir, and water every 1-2 weeks. 

An angel wing begonia (Begonia sp.) cutting's first baby leaf!

The same angel wing begonia (Begonia sp.) from above, one year later.

There are many, many different kinds of begonias, but they can generally be separated into three groups based on the presence of underground storage organs. Of those three groups, the fibrous-rooted begonias contain some of the begonias we are most familiar with, such as wax begonias (often seen as annuals) and cane-like begonias (often seen as houseplants or annuals). Cane-like begonias, which are our focus for today, are also called angel wing begonias due to their wing-shaped leaves (as seen above). Cane-like begonias have jointed stems and, at every joint, you should find a leaf and/or a cluster of flowers, if in bloom. Some have polka dot-like spots on the foliage, which is why I find the leaves of this plant so unique and cool!

Due to the large variety of species and cultivars within the cane-like begonias, it can be difficult to identify a cane-like begonia down to the species/cultivar. You can see that I denoted my begonia as Begonia sp. for this very reason (sp. indicates that the species is unknown or doesn't need to be specified). Regardless of specific identification, cane-like begonias have similar needs to grow well. They generally do best in bright, indirect light, in a fertile soil, and they like to be watered as soon as the soil surface is dry to the touch. Cane-like begonias benefit from pruning or pinching in order to promote bushier growth.

Triostar stromanthe (Stromanthe sanguinea)

As its name implies, Stromanthe sanguinea (sanguinea means "blood red" in latin) features dramatic reddish-pink coloring, particularly underneath the leaves and at the base of its stems. The tops of the leaves hint at a pink color as well, although it is much more subtle as it blends into the white and green variegation. These glossy, colorful leaves make this plant an absolutely stunning houseplant, which is why I just had to buy it a few weeks ago. The triostar stromanthe, commonly also called "tricolor", has a mechanism by which it can position its leaves according to sun exposure, and also folds up its leaves at night, exposing the bright coloring underneath. 

Native to the rainforests of Brazil, triostar stromanthes prefer warmer temperatures and humidity. During the growing season, it's best to keep the growth medium (which should be soilless) consistently moist. In contrast, the medium should have some time to dry out in between waterings during the winter. While bright light is best to maintain its bold coloring, triostar stromanthes can do very well in lower light as well. Unlike other houseplants we have discussed, propagate these plants by dividing the clump. 

Do you have any tips for maintaining and propagating these houseplants? Let us know below!

Guide to Begonias:
Cane-like Begonias:
Stromanthe sanguinea: