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Master Gardener Articles

Posted on 03/15/2020
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Master Gardener Articles


Micro-Environments

By Jay Maxwell

If you look up the definition of micro-environments, you will find many definitions relating to medical or computer sciences.  This is the definition that I found relating to plants and animals. 

mi·cro·en·vi·ron·ment - plural noun: micro-environments

  1. the immediate small-scale environment of an organism or a part of an organism, especially as a distinct part of a larger environment.

I remember the first “formal” gardening class I attended where they talked about micro-environments. They spoke about sunny plants vs. shady plants and getting the right plant, planted in the right place. You have probably lived and gardened in Colorado long enough to notice that sunny Southern facing slopes grow different plants than shady Northern facing slopes. You likely deal with either clay or sandy soil in your yard (maybe both in some Colorado locations). You may even have solid rock or crushed stone to deal with if you live in the foothills. These all qualify as micro-environments, as they are “a distinct part of a larger environment”, however, many micro-environments are much “smaller in scale”.

I can think of a couple of places where I have seen this in my yard. Several years ago, I planted Hostas under a tree. The first year they all did well. The next year one of the plants on a corner only grew to about 50% of the size of the others. I moved the plant in the fall because it was in a location where snow from the sidewalk was piled in the winter. I was thinking it might have been salt build-up. It did not appear that the sun, soil, or watering was different for this plant than any other plants. The plant recovered after moving to a different “environment.”

Now this year, I noticed another plant near that same location was smaller and misshapen (rather wilted) on the sidewalk side but was healthy on the tree side. This plant had been healthy just last year and all the other Hostas looked healthy around it. In retrospect, I believe that both plants were getting too much sun. The first plant was just planted in the wrong micro-environment. The amount of sun had changed over the last few years due to pruning and maintenance of the tree, allowing too much sun for the Hosta.

I have another area in my yard where turf grass struggles to grow. The ground under it has been compacted as it has stiff competition from roots of a nearby tree. I aerate multiple times each year, but that area (only about a 3-4 square feet micro-environment) still compacts quickly. I know that amending the soil will improve the situation as soon as it hits the top of my priority list (maybe next year).

The large variety of conditions in Colorado, along with our water issues, strong winds and severe storms, and rapidly changing temperatures all make gardening in our state challenging. It’s always good to give micro-environments some thought in your yard. They are not always obvious but are often simply fixed by amending the soil or moving a plant. The Colorado Gardening: Challenge to Newcomers article has many basics to help with getting the right plant in the right place which is the first step for dealing with micro-environments.

For more information on this or any home horticulture question contact a Weld County Master Gardener by emailing weldmastergardeners@outlook.com.


Fall Bulbs and Plants

By Jay Maxwell

Wow! Hasn’t 2020 been something?

It was early March that I spotted the first daffodil starting to stick its’ pretty little sprout through the ground. I was so excited that I took a picture and emailed it to a friend. “Spring is coming after all”. Still, I can remember the excitement I felt when I spotted that first sign of a new season, a new beginning. I could see warmer weather and the opportunity to smell the fresh earth and get some of it under my broken fingernails - sunshine, fresh air, oh, what a great feeling. 

Then April came and then May... well you know the rest. By that time, I believe a lot of people had felt that same excitement of Spring that I had felt. It was a warm spring and a lot of people were home due to the pandemic. Many folks started gardening to pass the time and make their yards more beautiful. Many nurseries were sold out earlier than normal. I am happy that there was more interest in gardening this year... even if the reason was terrible.

Now, Fall is (unofficially) here and hopefully by Spring of 2021, Covid 19 will be a thing of the past. September or early October is the correct time to plant most fall bulbs. Now is the time to plan to experience that same excitement next spring, as well as adding early to midseason color in your landscape. I know if you have read this far, you are thinking of a patch of daffodils or tulips and maybe some crocuses. There are now available longer blooming mixes of these and there are many other bulbs and plants that can be planted in fall.

Many shade bulbs and perennials do well when planted in the fall. Hostas, Bleeding Heart, Cyclamen and even ferns are available for Fall planting. I am planning on adding some Grape Hyacinth and Lilly of the Valley to some shady spots in my garden this year. 

How about some color for your sunnier spots, or later to midseason bloomers? Hibiscus and Shasta Daisies will give you some later color and are available for Fall planting. Don’t forget about Lillies and Day Lillies, as they always add a variety of bright colors that are not otherwise available in the garden Lupine and Foxglove will add height as well as color. There are always different colors of Iris available.

Now is the time to think “out of the (raised) box” and plan for next spring and summer. You can plant early blooming bulbs in the same bed as annuals or some perennials as they will start to wither and die before the other plants start to block the light. Check larger nurseries and don’t forget to check online for a larger selection. Divide your bulbs and perennials and try them in a new location or share with friends and neighbors. Don’t forget to divide and share your Iris.

A few dollars and a little time will bring you much joy next year. For more information about bulb planting and soil preparation check out these websites for Bulbs for Fall Planting and Fall Planted Bulbs and Corms.

And for more information on many other topics concerning home landscapes, contact the Weld County CSU Master Gardener Program at weldmastergardeners@outlook.com or (970) 400-2089


Who Needs Fertilizer?

Steve Kelly, Colorado Master Gardener

Who needs fertilizer? Most living plants, that’s who! The real questions are – how much fertilizer does a plant need, when does it need it, and how does it get it?

Fertilizer is the mix of “food” required for a plant to grow, flourish and reproduce. That food is made up of complex and interactive mixes of nutrients – both in large quantities and in small – taken up by the plant as it grows.

Where do fertilizers/nutrients come from? Some are supplied naturally by the soil, which is greatly variable and available to the plants based on a wide range of conditions. Whatever is lacking in a particular soil must be supplied by those of us trying to grow lawns, flowers, or vegetables. How do we know what’s lacking?

The most surefire way to determine what your plants need is by having a soil test. Colorado State University will perform a soil test for $35 from mailed samples and give a detailed analysis of types and amounts of fertilizers needed. Though $35 might sound like a lot, you can easily waste that much in unneeded fertilizer in a year – or worse – under/over fertilize to the point of costing a great deal to repair. Here is the link to the soil test information at CSU:  Soil, Water and Plant Testing Lab. There are also many other useful links at that site. For homeowners, download the submission form and instructions. You may also obtain a soil test kit and instructions at your local Extension Office.

Should you choose to forgo the soil test for lawns, a broad idea of fertilizer usage can be found on Fertilizing your lawn and Garden.  For more detailed information, search for CSU Fertilizing Lawns/Gardens. You generally fertilize based on the nitrogen needs and content of the fertilizer. From the chart in the above website, you will need to know the square footage of the area you are fertilizing, the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer purchased and the type of grass in your lawn. If you only fertilizer the lawn once a year, August/September is the time to do so.

Once the amounts of nutrients are determined, should you use organic, inorganic or liquid fertilizer? Your lawn doesn’t care. Plants take whatever form of fertilizer you provide and process it into the exact same chemical combo for their use. Each type of fertilizer form may have positive and negative attributes, so research each form for what will work best for you.

Correct applications of fertilizers can help assure success in your landscape!

Best of luck and for more information/questions on this topic or many other concerning home landscapes, contact the Weld County CSU Master Gardener Program at (970) 400-2089 or weldmastergardeners@outlook.com


Fall Flowering Clematis

Ruth Sens, CMG

There is a plant that reigns over my Greeley flower garden this time of year and it is a clematis vine. More specifically, sweet autumn clematis vines faithfully provide wonderful masses of fragrant creamy white blooms. They are just starting to bloom this last week of August and they light up my tired late summer garden with much needed beauty and fragrance when most everything else has stopped blooming.

The early summer flowering clematis vines with the larger blooms get serious adoration from gardeners. I have grown them too but this clematis (Clematis paniculata) is my favorite one. The reasons I love this vine include the attractive green leaves in summer, the stunning amount of small beautiful blooms, the wonderful fragrance, and the fact that it is a fast-growing vine. If you want to use a Colorado native fall flowering clematis, consider Virgin’s Bower (Clematis ligusticifolia) which is equally beautiful.

Fall flowering clematis are best planted in the spring. Choose a spot where you will be able to see the mass of flowers and enjoy the fragrance in late summer. Although some sources suggest they will bloom well in part shade, these vines have been most prolific for me when planted in full sun. They like a location where the roots can be kept cool in the shade of other shorter garden plants. Dig in some compost when planting, mulch, and then keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. These vines may take a few years to become fully established and winter watering is advised.

The fast growth (15 feet per summer in my yard) of an established fall flowering clematis means it requires a strong trellis and/or support that it can twine up on. Feature it in your perennial garden on a trellis, on an arbor over a garden path, or even along the top of chain-link fence. Gorgeous! The flowers will turn into fuzzy seed heads that I think look beautiful in the winter landscape.

These vines do need to be pruned or they will literally take over the structure they are growing on. A heavy pruning in spring each year is optimal. I prune my vines down to 12-18 inches in spring when I see new green shoots starting to emerge. This is a physical workout but one that I enjoy and then I stand back to watch in amazement as the plant begins its yearly growth.

Put fall flowering clematis on your shopping list for spring planting and enjoy the sweet autumn reward.

For more information on this clematis and other plants that look wonderful in the fall, check out the article Plants that shine in the Fall.


Fall Planting

Cathy Kellogg

Patrick Mundus once said, “Happy harvesting begins with careful sowing.” This is certainly true when it comes to planning out your garden. When my husband and I tried Fall Planting last year, we had to do some research. Spring planting had always seemed straightforward but trying to hammer down the dates in the middle of the year felt tricky. Does the first Fall frost matter? What happens if my plants are still in the ground? Fear not: Fall planting in Colorado is actually pretty easy when you follow a few simple steps. Let's take a closer look at vegetables and how and when to get things started.

First, one must decide what to plant for Fall. We have multiple options for veggies in Weld County, zone 5b. CSU offers an extended list of vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, onions, lettuce, peas, radish, spinach (hardy vegetables) and beets, carrots, cauliflower, parsley, parsnips, potatoes, and swiss chard, the semi-hardy vegetables . Hardy vegetables are defined as those that can tolerate moderate frost, so if you’re planting later in the season, it is best to go with hardy vegetables. For more information on specific vegetables, follow this link to CMG Garden Note #720, Vegetable Planting Guide

Next, we need to consider the temperatures. These cool-season vegetables prefer the temperature to be between 60 and 80 degrees, but temps can be warmer when planting from seed in late July and early August. If you haven’t already, now’s the time to get those seeds going. Seeds that are planted now will be maturing in September as temperatures begin to cool, and that’s exactly what we need to happen to produce a solid crop. How can you tell when to plant your seeds? Here’s an example to follow:

Let’s say I planted my cabbage today, and it’s August 10th. According to the seed packet, it will take 60 days for the cabbage to mature. When we look to the Plant Talk article on Soil Temperatures, Frosts and Planting Dates, (1626 Plant Talk), the last frost of the year is estimated to happen around October 15th. You can count forward 60 days from today’s date (or however many days it takes for your crop to mature) and the cabbage should be fully matured by October 10th. This gives us about 5 days of wiggle room for planting, plus cabbage is a hardy vegetable. Therefore, you still have a few weeks for these fall crops to produce without the worries of the cold killing your plants.

Most seeds are able to get started outside, but a few seed packets will suggest you start indoors. We have a few varieties of onions, for instance, and we’re starting those in our window with bright sun. If you start them in the greenhouse, keep a close eye on the temperatures with a digital thermometer. It is bound to be much hotter in the greenhouse in August than starting in the Spring. If you read the directions on your seed packets in its entirety, you’re off to a good start. Learning how to read the seed packet instructions is a lot like reading the nutritional information on a canned item at the grocery store-there’s some valuable information such as the best-by date and planting directions with spacing, light and water requirements that must not be overlooked. Following these basic guidelines can ensure you’re planting correctly, and if you run into issues with your veggies down the road, at least you can rule out the spacing, light and water requirements.

If there’s one piece of advice I could give, it would be to do your research. Take an hour or two to sit down and decide what you want to plant and when. Gardeners often say, “right plant, right place”, and that’s half the success of gardening. Once you decide what you want to grow and when to plant your seeds, be sure to plant in the right spot. Imagine your plot with the sun it captures each day-is it enough for the plants you wish to grow? Check out the seed packet for sun light recommendations. Water consistently and watch the magic happen.

Gardening really isn’t too difficult when you take the time to research your project. And who knows? Maybe you’ll produce enough to share with others. In these unprecedented times, growing a fall garden might be enough to put food on someone’s table. Please consider growing fall veggies to feed yourself and your neighbors. Let us all remember to look out for one another and to give when we’re able to do so.  1841 plant talk.


Don’t Stop Now - August in the Home Landscape

By Steve Kelly

When August arrives, we may want to let down our guard in the home landscape – it’s hot, it’s dry, we’re tired. In reality, we are coming to a time when critical actions (and even some fun) should take place!

August is the best time to prepare for an even better lawn next year. During mid-August/September is the time to core aerate your lawn. Aeration helps water and air to move more freely into the soil permitting the roots to grow deeper while avoiding compaction. For more information on aerating your lawn, please visit Proper Lawn Aeration.  During aeration, it is also a great time to fertilize your lawn. Research has shown we get the most bang for our fertilizer buck when we fertilize this time of year. In many cases, especially in low maintenance lawns, this may be the only time lawns need a feed. After aerating is also a good time to over seed your lawn. While not as effective as a total renovation when needed, it can work toward adding new grass seedlings into a thin sod. If your lawn has a weed problem, this too is a good time to apply an herbicide as this will weaken the weeds during the time they are trying to store food to overwinter.

Vegetable gardens also still have some life. Our warm season crops, such as tomatoes and beans are on borrowed time. Yet, with some planning for these tender plants, we can extend the season a little longer. Constructing a low hoop or row cover greenhouse can extend the growing season. For more information on extending the growing season, please visit Garden Notes.  It is still possible to plant those leafy cool season vegetables now as well. Remember also, many root crops such as carrots and beets can be left in the ground, sometimes with minimal coverings of mulch, well into fall.

Finally, the best tool for a homeowner is a pencil and paper. Now is the time to take stock of what has worked this season and what needs to be improved. When did you fertilize and at what rate? What is overgrown and needs trimmed when dormant? Did a vegetable variety flourish or fail? Write these successes and failures down so as not to forget. And begin to decide what you need to learn to make your home landscape better next year.

You can search researched based information on many garden topics at Colorado State University or contact a Weld County Master Gardener by calling (970) 400-2089 or emailing weldmastergardeners@outlook.com.


How Do I Keep My Lawn Green in August?

Ruth Sens, CMG

Keeping Kentucky bluegrass lawns green this time of year can be challenging. The extended hot dry periods we suffer in August are intense. Finding research-based practices to use is the key and this article has done that work for you. If you’re having issues with your Northern Colorado lawn, try these steps in order.

First, test and calibrate your sprinkler system. If there are any problems with the system related to under or over watering, they will show up now. The seven-step irrigation checkup that CSU recommends (including the useful tin can test) is very helpful to identify and correct problems, view the Operating and Maintaining a Home Irrigation System Fact Sheet.

Understanding how much and how often to water is important. From CSU: The rule of thumb for watering an established lawn is, “water as deeply and as infrequently as possible.” Deep and infrequent irrigation stimulates root growth, resulting in healthy, drought tolerant, and pest resistant turf. CSU recommends giving lawns 1.5 inches per irrigation when the lawn needs it. Do this between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.  The Watering Established Lawns fact sheet is helpful.

The next item to evaluate is the way you are mowing the lawn. This time of year: mow less frequently, make sure the mower blade is still sharp, and keep the grass at 3 inches to increase drought and heat tolerance. The Lawn Care fact sheet provides more information.

And what about dealing with those brown or dead looking spots that seem to show up almost overnight this time of year? The browning may be ascochyta leaf blight. This fungus of Kentucky bluegrass shows up in lawns that are stressed. Resist the urge to pour more water on as this actually contributes to the problem. The Ascochyta Leaf Blight of Turf fact sheet can help you understand the fungus, provides a great closeup photo to assist with diagnosis, and a list of suggested cultural treatments.

If you did not do a core aeration of your lawn in the spring of this year, consider scheduling one for your lawn this fall. This practice is vital to keep lawns healthy in Colorado as it supplies the soil with air, reduces soil compaction, and helps to control thatch which allows water and fertilizer to reach the roots. Get more information at Proper Lawn Aeration.

At this point, you may be asking yourself why you even have so much lawn. Consider reducing the amount of turf in your landscape. Designs using xeric principles can create truly beautiful yards that are more compatible with our arid climate. And you can do it yourself. Check out the seven steps of xeriscape provided by the City of Greeley, a fact sheet from CSU on xeric design, and the wonderful selection of durable plants to use from Plant Select®:

City of Greeley Xeriscaping

CSU Extension Xeriscaping: Creative Landscaping

Plant Select

Please contact us at weldmastergardeners@outlook.com if you have questions about your lawn.


Powdery Mildew

Cathy Kellogg

When a friend sent me photos of her squash and asked me to take a closer look, I knew instantly her problem was powdery mildew. The speckles and splotches of white powder splashed across the broad leaves reminded me of our woes from last summer. My husband and I shared the same concerns with our pumpkins last August. We see a lot of this mid-late summer and it’s not uncommon to find in your garden. My friend was overwatering her garden twice a day, and it probably didn’t need the second soak in the evenings. From vegetables and shrubs, to fruit trees and forest trees, powdery mildews can affect a large variety of plants. Luckily, it is easy to recognize if you pay attention to early symptoms.

Powdery mildew is a fungi that sends tubes from spores onto leaves and removes the nutrients from the plant. Once the radial growth begins, the spores turn powdery and can quickly spread through the air after approximately four days. This contagious fungus has been known to infect nearby plants, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your garden as the temperatures rise through summer and conditions become drier. You’re most likely to find powdery mildew on the tops of your leaves and infected leaves can fall from the plant prematurely after turning yellow unexpectedly. Infected buds have been known to not open as a result of the fungus. Although these symptoms may be tragic at first, we have damage control suggestions and preventative measures for gardeners to consider for next summer.

First, be sure you’re planting new items in bright, sunny sections of the yard. Powdery mildew tends to thrive in shaded areas with poor air circulation-as such, do not overcrowd your plants and be sure they receive plenty of sunlight.

Next, avoid overwatering. Choose water-wise plants when possible and only water your plants in the mornings. Until a few years ago, my husband and I watered our plants too often. Moving to Colorado from the South, you’re not used to gardening in such a dry climate at first. Now that we only water once a day, our veggies are doing much better and we rarely have issues with powdery mildew.

Another important tip is to water directly into the soil. If you can avoid getting the leaves too wet and take the time to water straight towards the ground, the likelihood of developing powdery mildew diminishes. In addition, pruning your plants and thinning them out ensures better air quality and circulation, ultimately reducing humidity. Put in the work and take good care of your plants to safeguard against this invasive fungus.

If powdery mildew has already plagued your garden, we have a few options to control the spread. First, remove all infected plants from your garden. Best case scenario, you need to prevent the fungus from spreading to other nearby plants. Since powdery mildew is more likely to spread with younger plants that are more susceptible to disease, look out for symptoms for the first few weeks after planting. Continue to observe any suspicious or unusual growth when temperatures soar and humidity exceeds 90%.

Also, avoid late-summer applications of nitrogen fertilizer. You’ll want to limit the production of succulent tissue, which is more susceptible to infection. And as a last resort, you may consider an application of a fungicide when necessary. These include

  • sulfur
  • neem oil
  • triforine
  • potassium bicarbonate

More information on these fungicides can be found on the Fact Sheet posted below, #2.902.

In a nutshell, powdery mildew can be a nuisance and the best way to deal with it is to get ahead of it. Be proactive and be good to your garden. Choose plants that are resistant to powdery mildew when you’re able to and be sure to plant your garden in sunny spaces with excellent air circulation. And don’t forget to prune your overcrowded plants-when it comes to powdery mildew, consistent maintenance in your garden is of the upmost importance.
For additional information, feel free to review the Fact Sheets and information posted below. Or send us an email with your photos and questions, so we can take a closer look. We’re always here to answer your gardening questions and always happy to help!!

Powdery Mildew on Vegetables
Powdery Mildew
Powdery Mildews


Which Shrub is Best?

By Cathy Hoyt

Selecting the right shrub for your landscape can be a bit overwhelming. There are many shrubs to choose from and not all thrive in our tough Colorado climate. You can find shrubs proven to be successful in your area by using the Plant Select website.  This website leads you through several choices including both deciduous and evergreen shrubs. Some of the information provided for each shrub includes how much sun is available, height and width, drought and disease tolerance, leaf color, flower color, and type of fruit. Additionally, you can select from several other attributes such as whether the shrub attracts bees, butterflies or birds and if it is deer resistant.

Before moving through all the shrubs on the website, consider a few questions. First, think about the main function (or “job”) you want your shrub to accomplish. Is the shrub to provide privacy? Are you looking for a backdrop for your perennial garden? Are you hoping to create a hedge? Is your shrub going to be set apart in your yard as a focal point? Do you need shrubs to deter deer? Is your shrub just needed to hide a work shed? Uncovering the answer(s) to this first question will narrow your focus and help you find just the right shrub.

A second question to consider is how tall your shrub needs to be. Often, we shop for shrubs based on how they look in the greenhouse or nursery. When a shrub is 12 inches tall, it can be difficult to imagine how it will look when it is 12 feet tall. When using Plant Select you can see photos of the full-grown shrub and read more important details related to height.

Another question to consider is how much time you will have to care for and maintain your shrub. Some shrubs require deadheading after blossoms drop. Some shrubs require more pruning or shaping than others. If you know you will be pruning your shrub, you may want to consider shrubs without thorns or prickly leaves.

Finally, consider your soil type and drainage, available sun, and how much water the shrub will receive. This is critical knowledge for picking a shrub that will survive.  Now as you work through the Plant Select shrubs, use your questions to prioritize your choices. Once you find a shrub you are interested in, you can read the description and actually find a set of similar shrubs. Make a list of three or four shrubs you are considering. Consider visiting a nursery, park or demonstration garden where you can see the full grown shrubs in place. Denver Botanic gardens has a full inventory of shrubs that live in that garden online.

Once you have made your selection, be sure to plant and care for your shrub(s) as directed and hopefully you can enjoy your shrub(s) for years to come. For more information on shrubs, you can consult this CSU fact sheet.


Herbs Gone Wild!

by Eve Timm

Several years ago, a friend of mine was selling plants as a fundraiser for educational purposes.  Being a retired teacher, I of course purchased several items including two Italian oregano plants.  I planted them in my tomato beds, thinking, how convenient - grilled pizzas, tomato sauces and fresh salad would be wonderful.

The first year the oregano produced tasty leaves. Year two the plants grew as well as the year before and I even had enough oregano to dry for winter use. The next year I ignored it completely.  It didn’t seem to need much care anyway. That’s when I realized it was a big mistake! By midsummer those two small plants had grown into monsters. They were even choking out my cherry tomato plant. Even worse, it had gone to seed. At this point the leaves were very bitter and almost useless in cooking.

The worst part of this story is yet to come. I didn’t remove the seed heads and the notorious Colorado winds did what they do best. Needless to say, there was oregano growing everywhere.  This spring was spent digging oregano out of flower and vegetable beds, our patio, our lawn, and even the front yard!

There are several ways to enjoy this herb and prevent this problem. Start by researching the plant's growing habits before purchasing and planting. Helpful information can be found at the Master Gardener website. I recommend; Planttalk #1003 Planning and Planting, Planttalk #1047 Italian Kitchen Garden Plants and most definitely, Planttalk #1081 Growing Herbs in Containers! Here you will find that oregano is related to mint which can be very invasive.

So, to solve my oregano problem, I chose to get an old bucket with a rusted out bottom, and, shoving it deeply in the soil around a sprig of Oregano that survived, I hope to grow it once again.  I am also planning on keeping a vigilant eye on it and the minute I see it beginning to set seed - I’m chopping it way back. If this doesn’t work, it will be in a container with a saucer next year!

With a little research, you will also find that herbs are quite easy to grow in Colorado. They love low humidity, bright light and good drainage. Now I'm off to dig up chives and dill that have overtaken the vegetable garden! Wish I had also researched those cultivars.


GARDENING: NATURE OR NURTURE OR?

By Jay Maxwell

A friend of mine mentioned to me recently that she felt a strong need to plant a garden every spring. I also have similar feelings. The next day, I was doing one of my least favorite jobs in the yard: raking pine straw. Lots of pine straw. The music was playing and I was trying not to sing along loud enough for the neighbors to hear. I was hot, tired and sore, yet felt a great sense of satisfaction. That’s when I decided it must be in our nature to grow things. Yes, in our DNA.

Ions ago, all of our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, until someone (probably your side of the family) discovered they could collect seed and cultivate them closer to home or move a distance away and still grow what they needed. They became less nomadic and more like what we know as farmers.

My family research does not go back to the hunting and gathering days. However, I have discovered that while some of my ancestors were in the United States before 1800, many of them immigrated during that century with the last arriving in 1879. They were leaving socio-economic problems to immigrate to the United States. Many came because of the Homestead Act and the promise of free land.

Most US residents at that time lived on acreage or in very small towns. Both of my grandfathers had jobs in town, yet as most Americans, they both identified as farmers. Why? Out of need. They were subsistence farmers and grew food to meet their needs and those of their families. Most crops went to feed livestock, for food, transportation and to work the farm. All-important. Just as important was the garden. You grew what you ate, vegetables from potatoes, carrots, parsnips, beets, tomatoes, beans, peas, leaf veggies like lettuce and spinach. If you wanted fruits, you planted trees or bushes; apple, cherry, plum, peach, gooseberries, raspberries and blueberries. They grew enough to preserve for next winter by curing, canning, drying or storing in a vegetable cellar. For more information on storing home-grown vegetables. There was little to no excess, everything was used, or bartered. Veggie peels went into soup, fruit peels and cores went into jellies, and culls were not wasted.

When crops failed because of flood, hail or lack of rain, there was not enough food to meet family needs. Families depended on extended families, community, church and friends to get through until spring. Often whole communities went hungry with little to eat. Your quality of life depended on your ability to grow and store your food. Not your land or your money. Many centuries of these types of experiences have put farming and gardening into our DNA.

But wait! There may be a nurturing aspect of gardening as well. At least with me. While working in the garden this spring, I have been thinking of my parents. Partly due to the fact that both of their birthday’s fell in May and June, as well as the celebration of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. I was in the fourth grade when we moved into their last house, which they lived in for more than 40 years. They both lived to be 94 and 97 years old. Both loved to garden. My mother mostly tended the flowerbeds and my father the vegetable garden.

I remember my dad starting his garden on a former ash pit. He hauled several wheelbarrows of ash from that corner. He could hardly get his shovel in the ground to spade it that first time. He brought in a load of aged compost and worked it in. He grew a crop that first year but not much of one. After that first year, he would plant in three quarters of the garden and compost leaves, lawn clippings and garden waste in the other quarter, changing locations each year. For more information on composting yard waste. Within a few years, the soil was rich and fertile and a full eight inches above where he started. He grew all varieties of vegetables but his tomatoes were his pride and joy. All were lush, tasty and juicy! I was too young to appreciate their labors but I certainly appreciate them now.

I don’t remember all of the flowers that my mom grew but I know she had a long row of Iris by the driveway and Garden Phlox behind them. She always had several pots of something growing. She had several geraniums she wintered and restarted from cuttings after the first of the year. For more information on overwintering geraniums. She had two south facing windows so her houseplants were very happy.

What I really remember about my mom is the canned items that she “put up”. My father enjoyed canning too, so he helped. They would purchase a bushel of peaches; cucumbers and a five-gallon can of pie cherries when they were in season. For more information on canning fruits. There was a shelf in the house that was full of their canned goods. In the late fall it was like a beautiful work of art. Quarts of tomatoes, peaches, cherries and dill pickles, pints of bread and butter pickles, watermelon rind pickles (that tasted like candy), jellies of many flavors, piccalilli (a green tomato relish that I loved on hamburgers) and of course corn and beans. For more information on canning vegetables. It was hard work for them but a labor of love. They were as tasty to look at as they were to eat. We didn’t have much money but we ate well.

Now as I sit on my porch with a glass of iced tea, enjoying the flowers that grow around me, I still do not know if it’s nature and/or nurture. I do know that I plant for enjoyment, my own enjoyment. It’s always nice when a neighbor walks by and says, “your yard looks nice” or “the garden is beautiful”. Everyone likes that. It’s even better when I walk in my yard and admire the garden with a sense of accomplishment and pride from the fruits of my own labor. Yes it’s a bit selfish, but I garden for myself and am happy when family, friends and others can enjoy.

Nature’s gardens are beautiful, mostly maintenance free. I enjoy nature very much. In my yard however, I like the sense of limited control and creativity by saying “I want a touch of red here, yellow there and a bed of purple in the corner”. I even sometimes plant in containers so that I can change as desired. For more information on container gardening. This plant needs a little less water and that plant needs a little more sun and I strive to make their environment as supportive as possible. I enjoy the labor of this, the birds and the butterflies it attracts. Soon even difficult jobs become enjoyable.

Now I’ve rested a bit and finished my iced tea and if you will excuse me, I must get back to tending my garden.


The Secret Life of Trees; How They Live and Why They Matter

Book Review
Book by Colin Tudge
Review by Weld County CMG Noel Johnston

My previous review for this site was also a tree book, the wonderful “Hidden Life of Trees” by Peter Wohlleben. Colin Tudge’s “The Secret Live of Trees,” while tackling the same subject, could hardly be more different from Wohlleben’s book.

That is not to say that one is better than the other, but “Secret Life” is not a coffee table volume; there are a few pen and ink sketches of the species being mentioned, but no stunning color photographs. There are pages after pages of scientific details here, which, to be honest, were often well over my head, in a dendrological way of speaking. And the text is not a spellbinding narrative but more of a scientific journal.

So, if you want a stunning, relaxing and inspiring tree book, read “Hidden Life.” For a more scientific, data driven book, then “Secret Life” might be the better choice. Just be aware that the Tudge book is over 400 pages of fairly small print, and, at least for my level of interest, is best absorbed at only a one chapter per day pace.

In his preface, Tudge writes that “(all forms of) life are … competitive.” (p 4). All living things, he surmises, are after the same things, and those things are finite. But, the author states, life is also “just as inescapably, cooperative.” (p 4). He contends that trees are quite cooperative with their fellow living creatures and form mutualistic relationships with an enormous variety of them.

Tudge makes no excuses for his assertion that “the human debt to trees is absolute,” (p 5), and that “without trees, our species would not have come into being at all; and if trees had disappeared after we hit the ground, we would still be scrabbling like baboons, assuming baboons allowed us to live at all.” (p 7). His unabashed love of trees compels him to write that even though groves of redwoods are often compared to great cathedrals, “the metaphor should be the other way around. The cathedrals … emulate the trees.” (p 7)

Think for a moment about your answer to this seemingly simple question: What is a tree? Tudge’s simple definition reminds me of that CMG mantra that “a weed is a plant that we didn’t put there that we don’t want there.” Short and sweet Tudge’s definition: “A tree is a big plant with a stick up the middle.” (p 14). Of course, for the next 385 pages, he gives us pounds and pounds of details to show that his opening definition, while easy to visualize and remember, is hardly adequate to any tree-minded person, scientific or otherwise.

Ultimately, the Cambridge (England) zoology graduate writes:

For purposes of this book, the simple definition of “tree” will serve, albeit with a slight elaboration: “A tree is a big plant with a stick up the middle - or could be, if it grew in the right circumstances; or is very closely related to other plants that are big and have a stick up the middle; or resembles a big plant with a stick up the middle. (p16)

“How many kinds of trees are there?” is a nifty little question. And early on in this text, Tudge acknowledges that even the best experts simply have to reply, “Nobody knows.” (p 27). Identifying trees is tricky, he writes, because their flowers, leaves, and bark have such infinite variety and cross-over that the bark may say “Maple” but the leaves say “Catalpa.” Tudge suggests that for ID, we use “keys,” such as those in the CSU Extension publication “Identification Keys for Woody Plants of the Pikes Peak Region,” that paperback every Colorado Master Gardener must-have. But even this flow chart gem often comes up wanting. Again, the immense variety and cross-over is sometimes just too complicated for the simplicity of “If A, then B.” (p 34)

Tudge also alludes to the ultra-modern way of tree ID - DNA sampling. While highly scientific, getting such samples and then having them properly analyzed is beyond the scope and finances of most of us. So Tudge suggests that the third, and probably best way, to ID a tree is ”simply to know (what species it is).” (p 35). True, no doubt, but not much help to those of us walking through a park and thinking, “What’s that cool tree over there?”

Despite all the varieties and types, all trees, by whatever definition we use, have one thing in common, that which allows them to grow so big and live so long: wood. Wood, writes the author, occupies one third of all the Earth’s land. (p 80). It is one of the wonders of the universe, and it did not have to be invented or manufactured. It just grows! And while great cathedrals, skyscrapers, and pyramids grow, too, in a sense, these human-made structures cannot stand alone or support themselves until they are finished. A tree, however, must “fashion and re-fashion itself” during every phase of its growth, from a seed to a 300-foot Giant Redwood. (p 82). Tudge predicts that the “prestige buildings of the future, like those of the past, (will) be with great advantage … constructed of wood.” (p 91)

The middle 200 pages or so of this book are, to be frank, much more for the biology major than the casual reader. I must confess that I thumbed my way quickly through such chapters as “The Glorious Inventory of Rose-like Eudicots” and “From Handkerchief Trees to Teak: The Daisy Like Eudicots,” to get to sections that promised more of a narrative that I could handle. “How Trees Live,” for instance, gave me an amateur’s glossary of info. Tudge helps remind me (from my CMG classes and that dreaded 7th grade biology class) that “If it weren’t for photosynthesis, there would be no oxygen gas at all in the atmosphere, and creatures like us could never have evolved at all.” (p 253). And continuing his passion for trees, Tudge also reminds us that “trees are the greatest of Nature’s engines of photosynthesis.” (p 254)

Much like Wohlleben in his book, Tudge occasionally tosses out a “fun fact to know and tell.” Here are two questions: What tree has the longest roots (as far as current studies know)? And how long are those roots? To keep you reading, I’ll answer in a bit. Hint: It is 99.5% likely that none of us has ever grown one, and other than at a botanical garden, has ever actually seen one.

Here’s a third interesting question: The mighty Redwoods of California get about 1/3 of their water from what source? (If you’ve been there in person, think about what the climate conditions were like in those forests). In order to keep you reading, I’ll save the answers for the end of this review. No peeking!!

Tudge, much like Wohlleben, believes that trees remember. “I don’t know how, but they do,” he writes. (p 273) For example, there are two young trees of the same species close together, getting the same amount of sun, water, and nutrients. The arborist gently shakes one tree, bending it in several directions, over a consistent length of time (months, even years). The other tree is left alone. Take a wild stab at which of the two will grow thicker and sturdier. Of course, it is the shaken tree. Tudge concludes that this phenomenon is “memory” of a sort. (p 273) This demonstration re-affirms the lectures of Weld County’s Amy Lentz and Larimer County’s Alison O’Connor that it is best NOT to stake up young trees when planting them.

In his closing pages, Tudge writes a section entitled “A World Built on Trees.” He contends that since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution and even earlier, humans have spent enormous amounts of time, energy, talent, and money developing alternatives to wood for building our great structures, our homes, churches, hospitals, stadiums and schools. The development of steel and plastics and synthetics have consumed researchers. “The future must be rooted in biology,” Tudge contends. “In construction, we must reverse the trend away from timber.” (p 384). There are studies that have concluded that if the joists in New York City’s Twin Towers had been made of property treated and protected wood instead of steel, they would have withstood the inferno of 9/11 for longer than the steel did, for steel buckles when heated, while thick wood takes a very long time to burn through. With more time, more people could have got out (alive).” (p 385)

In summary, Tudge’s “The Secret Life of Trees” is a stellar addition to a tree lover’s library. It is not so much for pleasure reading as it is for fact gathering, and while there were sections that exceeded my knowledge base and eluded my personal interests, I recommend this book for any reader who wishes a clear, scientific study of what trees are, where they came from, and what they do.

Oh, before I forget and leave your breathless with unfulfilled anticipation, here are the answers:

Longest tree roots of all? The African Fig, 120 meters (more than 375 feet).
Redwoods’ water source for 1/3 of their total? Morning fogs that sweep in from the Pacific.

If you got all three answers correct without cheating, there is a professorship awaiting you at CSU in the fall!

CSU Extension Relevant Garden Notes include:
#112, 113 (Tree Disorders)
#170-177 (Tree and Shrub Identification)


Give Your Lawn Some Summer Love

By: Master Gardener, Steve Kelly

The heat is on your lawn as summer temperatures rise and rainfall decreases in Northern Colorado. While your lawn is under stress, you don’t have to be. By making a few simple changes, your lawn – and you - will survive.

One of the simplest practices a homeowner can use to improve their bluegrass lawn is to mow at a height of 2 ½ to 3 inches. A homeowner may feel uncomfortable with this, but the advantages of mowing at this height is better weed control as the grass is more competitive plus the soil remains cooler which reduces plant stress. It is equally important to mow the grass often enough to remove no more than 1/3rd of the grass blades at each mowing. Removing a small amount each time reduces stress on the grass, although in the spring you may have to mow more often.
Also important in de-stressing your lawn is to leave the lawn clippings. As hard as this is to accept, here’s why: Clippings left on the lawn decompose quickly, add organic matter, and give back nitrogen, lessening the need for added fertilization. In addition, clippings placed in the garbage adds to landfill costs unnecessarily, not to mention the hassle of bagging! Admittedly, if the lawn is too high when mowed, the homeowner may need to rake occasionally. Those lawn clippings can be composted if certain herbicides/pesticides have not been used. Read and follow all pesticide labels to determine if your clippings can be mulched. And despite what we may believe, clippings do not contribute to thatch, so rest easy on that point.

Finally, living in a semi-arid region can be a challenge when watering our lawns; it’s difficult to know when and how much to water, and water is expensive. Many homeowners “set it and forget it” by programming the sprinkler system. Depending on the season, this may over or underwater a lawn for best growth. Instead, try this routine. Take a short walk over your lawn and return an hour later. If the footprints are still visible, your lawn is thirsty, so turn on the water!

Follow these simple and free methods to destress your lawn and yourself! For published information on many garden/lawn/landscape topics, visit Colorado State University and search for a topic of interest or contact a Weld County Master Gardener by calling (970) 400-2089 or emailing weldmastergardeners@outlook.com.


Plants As Tough As Cactus

By: Master Gardener, Susan Jorgensen

Looking for plants that are as tough as cactus? Here are three that stand up to harsh conditions and has colorfully beautiful blooms.

Colorado desert blue star






Amsonia jonesii. Jones’ blue star also called Colorado desert blue star

This spring blooming beauty was a 2011 plant select winner. It has plentiful sapphire blue blooms shaped like stars in the spring and foliage that turns clear yellow in the fall. It grows 12-18 inches wide by 12-18 inches tall, with an upright vase-shaped form, large clusters of tubular, ivory-colored and blue flowers and finely textured foliage. It doesn’t look tougher than a cactus, but it is!

Jones' Bluestar is native to Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah. Patience is needed while this plant sizes up in your garden. But this slow-growing native, once established, is very long-lived and showy, just like fellow native species Clematis scottii. It grows well in a wide range of soil types and makes a fine companion for other western water wise plants, such as Penstemon and is deer resistant.

This western native is widely adaptable and will thrive in ordinary gardens or un-watered xeriscape once it is established. It prefers full sun and well-drained soils and is hardy in zones 4-9. It will thrive up to 8,000 feet in elevation.

Native Pussytoes







Second: Antennaria parvifolia. Native Pussytoes

These natives grow 2-6 inches high by 9-12 inches wide and make a good ground cover. Both sides of the leaves are hairy, and it forms a basal grouping of leaves with the soft flowers rising above. There are male and female plants and the blooms vary slightly between them, but they do not need each kind to bloom.

The blooms that appear May to August resemble the soft, furry undersides of cat feet, thus the name pussy toes. These long blooming pink and white flowers are soft to the touch, but this plant is also a tough, long lived plant. This is a common Antennaria in forest openings and rocky areas from about 5,000' to 9,500' but will thrive in lower elevations also. Flower heads are in clusters of 2-6+. The plants will slowly spread and love full sun and have low water needs.

This plant was found by Harvard teacher Thomas Nuttall and named in 1841 after discovering it in 1833 in the Black Hills.

Tufted evening primrose





The third plant is: Oenothera Caespitosa Tufted Primrose also known as the Tufted evening primrose

Oenothera is a combination of the Greek word ionosphere which means wine and Thera which means catcher or hunter. Sometimes interpreted as a root that can absorb wine. It is speculated that ancient European hunters gave some of the roots to animals to calm them down. In other translations it is said that adding it to wine would make the heart merry, in other translations it simply means wine scented.

At dusk, the very large flowers first open very quickly, the pink buds open to large, fragrant flowers that fade to pink once again. Thus, they have a two-tone appearance. They rise on a short stem from the basal rosette of gray-green, fuzzy leaves that is 3-4 inches tall and stay open during several days. They may close briefly during the midday heat. They have a long blooming period. The fragrant flowers start blooming in early summer. This is a hardy Colorado native that thrives up to 9,000 feet in altitude and tolerates heavy clay.

Good drainage is a must - likes rocky soils but adapts to other soils. It needs full sun and low moisture. The seeds are eaten by songbirds and small mammals and deer sometimes nibble on the leaves. It also serves as a nectar source or night moths, such as the Nighthawk or Sphinx moth. It will grow happily in the hottest, driest locations and never need water once established. Transplants fairly easily but may require water and TLC after a move.

For more information on Colorado native plants, check out the CSU Extension publication.


It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a perennial, an annual, or biennial!

By Lucie Shelofsky, Colorado Master Gardener

Spring is here. The sun has a more northerly slant and the days are warmer, though the nights can still be Colorado crisp. You are probably out in your yard surveying your flower beds and possibly planning what flowers to purchase for outdoor pots or to spruce up a bare spot in your landscape. It is essential to be aware of the differences between perennial, annual, and biennial plants.

Perennial plants are those that live more than two years. Herbaceous perennials have soft, nonwoody stems. They generally die back to the ground each winter and have a period of dormancy. When spring rolls around again, the plant will grow new stems from its crown. There is a great selection of perennials at many local nurseries that can thrive in our dry climate. Yarrow, Hyssop, Prairie Winecups, Coreopsis, and Ice plant are a few popular Northern Colorado favorites. For additional plant suggestions, go to the Colorado State University Extension website.

When planning to add perennials to your flower garden, be mindful of the amounts of sun and water your flower bed gets. Grouping plants that require similar sun exposure and water needs together will make your job as a gardener easier. Also be aware of the height and spacing needed for your selections to reach their full growth and flowering potential. To read more about perennial gardening refer to Fact Sheet 7.402.

Annual plants complete their life cycle in one year. Summer annuals complete their life cycle during spring and summer. If you love your striped petunias this year, you will need to buy new striped petunias next spring! Annuals are a colorful addition to a flowerbed and are especially perfect for outdoor pots on your front step or patio. If taken care of properly, they will provide color and beauty until the first frost. Some annuals that require ¼” to ½” of water per week include Cosmos, Gazania, Lantana, and those striped Petunias. Again, check the CSU Extension website for more suggestions.

As with the perennial plants, make sure you are aware of the sun and water requirements of your annual plant choices. If you are planting in an outdoor container, group plants with similar needs together.

Biennials are intriguing plants. A biennial flower requires all or part of two years to complete its life cycle. During the first year, it will produce leaves and a food storage system. The plant will overwinter and during its second year it will produce flowers and seeds. Examples of popular biennials include some Hollyhocks, Sweet William, and Foxglove.

For more information and helpful hints concerning plant choice, visit the CSU Extension Plantalk Xeriscape Annuals and Perennials.


Tips for Planting and Growing Tomatoes

By Lauren VandenBirge

I am a new to gardening and have struggled to grow tomatoes in the past. I learned a lot in my Master Gardener classes about tomatoes and I’ve compiled a list of the top things I learned, that I didn’t know before.

Today I started the process of hardening off my tomato seedlings. I planted them over a month ago and am really excited to get them into the ground.

Size of Transplants: The ideal size of a tomato transplant is six to eight inches tall, is dark green in color, and has a stem that is about a pencil width in diameter. I have been planting seedlings that are too short and narrow, which affects how well they transplant and grow.

Temperature for Planting Seedlings: Most everyone knows to plant tomatoes after the last frost, but what I learned is that tomatoes do best in temperatures that are at least fifty-two degrees at night and at least sixty degrees during the day. If, after your last frost date, temperatures at night are still below fifty-two degrees, it might be too cold to plant your tomatoes. Also, during the life of the tomato plant, if daytime temperatures dip below fifty-five degrees for more than a week, growth of the tomato plants will be stunted.

Wind Protection: If you live in a windy area like I do, it is really helpful right after you plant your seedlings to wrap the cages or beds with a plastic sheet for a few weeks to help block the wind and help the plants adapt to their new environment. The colder air in the wind can really affect how well tomato seedlings grow.

Fertilizer: I learned a lot about how and when to fertilize tomatoes. Tomatoes have a low nitrogen requirement; they don’t need a lot. If you fertilize with too much nitrogen, your tomatoes might produce too much leafy growth and not enough fruit growth. Instead of fertilizing with a nitrogen only fertilizer, it is recommended to use a “starter” fertilizer, like Miracle Grow or something similar.

Tomatoes are typically fertilized at three different points in their life. First, at transplant, you can apply one to three applications of starter fertilizer, ten to fourteen days apart. How many applications you apply depends on the organic content in your soil. The lower the organic content of your soil, the more applications you should do.

Second, if temperatures drop below fifty-five degrees during the day for a week, you can apply a starter fertilizer to help the plants keep growing, despite the lower temperatures.

Lastly, tomatoes can run out of nitrogen in midsummer. When plants have their first fruits and those fruits are about two inches in diameter, you should think about lightly fertilizing the plants with a starter fertilizer. Apply the fertilizer every two to four weeks, depending on the organic content of your soil. Applying fertilizer during this time can help control tomato Early Blight disease-a disease that has plagued my tomatoes in the past.

This is not an exhaustive list of things to know for growing tomatoes. For a more comprehensive understanding of growing tomatoes, please reference these PlantTalk webpages on growing tomatoes in the home garden and how heat affects tomato growth.

Additionally, the Clearview Library District is offering a free Zoom class on growing tomatoes on June 10th from 12:30 p.m.- 1:30 p.m.  


 Growing and Maintaining Beautiful Container Gardens

By Patty Bodwell, Master Gardener, Weld County

Gardening pictureAnyone can grow and maintain a beautiful container garden with a few simple tips on how to plant and maintain your garden.  To start you will need a container with a drain hole, soil, fertilizer, and plants.

Choose pots that are 8” or larger. Colorado is so dry that smaller pots will dry out way too quickly and you will have better success with larger pots. Plastic pots retain water longer. Terra Cotta pots breathe better and are good for those who overwater. Ceramic pots are nice but need to be taken in during the winter. Fiber pots are great for container gardens and are not decorative, but they are perfect to use in huge ceramic pots that would be very heavy filled with soil. Just plant your garden in the fiber pot and set it in the top of the ceramic pot and it will cover the unattractive fiber and the pot will be light enough to move around and store in the winter. Just remember to get the right size fiber pot that will rest in the top of your cover pot. If you want to get creative, use an old wheelbarrow for a portable garden or find other fun items to use for containers. Just make sure that they drain.

Use a good potting soil that does not contain wood or time release fertilizer. Your local garden center should have a nice selection of one or two brand soils that have lots of organic matter without wood or time release fertilizer in them.

Choose a grow fertilizer and a bloom fertilizer. These are two separate products. When buying fertilizer there are three numbers on the container. The first number is nitrogen which is what you want to use while the plants are growing (ex: 12-6-6). The second number is phosphorus and that is what helps plants bloom and you will start using this when blooms start to appear on the plants (ex: 5-10-5). Check your local garden center and there should be one or two good liquid fertilizer brands from which to choose. You will fertilize your plants every 7 to 10 days for larger and more beautiful plants and blooms. I prefer using two separate products instead of an all-in-one type or time release fertilizer because the fertilizer does not know the conditions or what the plants need at any given time. Too much nitrogen when plants start to bloom will cause your plants to start getting leggy.

Deadheading will be a big part of your success. A plant’s job is to reproduce and grow more seed. Spent blooms and dead stalks take energy away from the plant and new blooms so dead head your plants regularly to produce more and healthier blooms.

Got bugs? Get a 100% pure castile soap with peppermint oil in it. Mix a couple of drops in a spray bottle with water and spray any pests you see and underneath the leaves and that will take care of most pests like aphids and spider mites.

Choose a theme for your pot. Cool, warm, monochromatic, or complementary colors. Whatever you like is most important. Decide whether you want a shade pot or a sun pot. The right plant in the right place ensures more success. Most garden centers have their plants labeled for sun or shade. Sun is more than 6 hours of sun a day so choose plants based on where your pot will be placed. Most plants are labeled for a national audience so remember that in Colorado the sun is harsher than in other places. When in doubt ask your local nursery worker if it will be the right plant for the place you are putting your pot.

Choose thrillers, fillers, and spillers (I give credit to Rob Proctor who coined this phrase that has been used by many since he coined it). Thrillers can be one large plant that takes your breath away. I like to choose odd numbers so either one or three. It really depends on how big your pot is. Hot Wing Begonias, Geraniums, Spikes, Cannas, Grasses or Hydrangeas. Fillers are less tall and fill in around the thriller. They can bloom or be gorgeous variegated plants like Sun Coleus for lots of color. Spillers will be put around the edge of the pot to spill over the sides. Sweet Potato Vine, Wave Petunias, and vining plants. If fillers bloom, then the spillers may not bloom or vice versa.

If your plants have been nice and cozy in a greenhouse you will need to harden them off. Hot sun or cold could shock the plant if it has not been outside yet. Set your plants out in the sun for an hour or two the first day and then increase the time daily for 4 or 5 days. This will acclimate the plant to being outside in hot sun or cold nights. Remember to water them until it is time to plant them.  For more information, view PlantTalk.

Fill your pot with soil so when it is watered the water will not run off. Arrange your plants in the pot until you like the arrangement before you take them out of the growing pots. Turn the growing pot upside down and use gravity to get the plants out of the pots so you don’t pull the roots out or break the stem off trying to get it out of the pot. Scoop out the soil and put the plant firmly in place.

Water in your plants. Water until the water starts draining from the drain hole. There is no set schedule for watering. If it is summer and 80’s and 90’s you will most likely have to water every day. When it is this hot, missing one days watering could cause your pots to get too dry for the plants to take up water. This is usually the point of no return if they get too dry. You can use a moisture meter, or you can stick your finger about an inch or two into the soil to see if it is damp. As a rule, in the summer I usually water every day until water starts draining from the hole.

Every 7 to 10 days fertilize your plants. Your pots will need grow fertilizer until they start to bloom. Once they start to bloom you will switch to the bloom fertilizer. Fertilizing every 7 to 10 days will give your plants more blooms which will be healthier and bigger.

Deadhead your plants when the blooms are finished. This will ensure your plant has the energy to keep producing more and bigger blooms. Pinch or cut the blooms off underneath the seed pod. If you just pull the bloom out, for example petunias, you will leave the seed on the plant and that will take energy away from producing more and bigger blooms.

So, there you go. Steps for success. Plant in a good size pot, use good soil, water, fertilize every 7 to 10 days, and deadhead. Follow these steps and you will have beautiful pots all season long. Spring, Summer or Fall there are plants for your container garden to enjoy for each season.
These steps are also great for gardening herbs and vegetables in pots. If you plant tomatoes, make sure you use a 14” pot 8” to 12” deep. Tomatoes also like different fertilizer than flowers so check at your local garden center for products just for tomatoes. You can also plant peppers in pots 8” to 12” deep. Lettuce can be planted in a shallower bowl.

For more tips please visit CSU Container Gardens or Plant Talk Container Gardens.  To find almost any topic search for whatever you are looking for followed by colostate.edu (example: container gardening colostate.edu). The CSU Extension has many great tips on many gardening topics to help you have gardening success.

Happy Container Gardening!


How to Manage Spring Frosts in Your Colorado Garden

By: Master Gardener, Lauren VandenBirge

Like many fellow Coloradans, I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of Spring. I have been waiting for the trees to bud, the grass to green up, and to finally get some vegetables and flowers started in my garden.

And, like many in Colorado, I received a weather advisory on my phone about an impending frost advisory for the night. In true Colorado fashion, it was in the lower 70s today and it is expected to drop to between 32 and 35 degrees tonight where I live. And this is likely not the only time this spring season I will have to worry about my plants and a frost. Last year, the last frost in my area was close to the end of May.

I already have some plants in the ground and I want to make sure that they survive the frost. What do you do when a frost is going to hit your garden? How do you plan a garden that works best with the frost dates in your area?

  1. Find the average last frost date for your area. Plan what and when you plant in your garden around these dates. For the Greeley and Fort Collins area, you can reference this Climate Summary from Colorado State University.
    At the end of this document are the spring frost probabilities. You can use these dates to help plan for when you plant in your garden.
  2. Plant cool-season vegetables and flowers first. These plants are more likely to withstand a light or moderate frost and are ideally planted before the average last frost date in your area. Examples of cool-season flowers are pansies, snapdragons, and cool-season annuals. Vegetables are radishes, beets, carrots, broccoli, peas, and onions.
    For a more exhaustive list of cool-season vegetables and how to plant them, you can reference this document from Plant Talk Colorado.
  3. Wait until after the average last frost date to plant warm-season vegetables, like tomatoes, beans, melons, and squashes.
    The following Vegetable Planting Guide gives tips on when to plant, what temperatures are ideal, information on planting, and time to harvest.
  4. Lastly, if a frost is looming and you are worried about the plants you already have in the ground, there are many techniques you can use to keep your plants from freezing. Some of these techniques can add up to 18 to 30 degrees of frost protection! The main goal of these different techniques is to trap the heat the soil received from the sun during the day and use it as a heat source throughout the colder night. You can cover your plants with blankets, sheets, floating row covers, or plastic. Take care to keep the coverings dry and don’t let them touch the plants.
    For more detailed information, this document explains each type of frost protection, how to install it, and how much frost protection you can expect.

So, tonight, before it gets too cold, I am planning to head out to my garden and put in the plastic covered frames I built for the peas, onions, and radishes I have planted. Hopefully, in the morning, my plants will have survived the frost and will keep on growing!

For more information on spring frosts and freezes, please see Frost and Freeze and Spring Frosts and Snows.


Grow and Give: Plant a Garden and Support Your Community

COVID-19 has changed the daily habits of everyone, from where we work, to how much we drive, to how we stay healthy. One important change occurring in these times is how people access their food. Instead of running to the store to pick up a few things for dinner, we have to plan for a week or two at a time, bring our homemade masks and have hand sanitizer in the car. We have all seen the shelves: empty, gray and forlorn. COVID-19 has brought intense attention to the availability of food, where it comes from and how quickly supply levels change, which can leave us worried about the future.

But there is a course of action to remedy these feelings of distress and unease: growing and preserving your own food and giving the excess to others. Gardening and preserving increases food security for families, communities and nations because the food is grown hyperlocally, by people we trust.

Many of us have warm and safe memories of gardening with grandma and seeing her cupboard shelves lined with clear Mason jars, filled to the brim with pickled beets, green beans and raspberry jelly. There is a good reason for these wonderful memories. Food grown and preserved at home is affordable, accessible, nutritious and beautiful. One does not have to wait for the next shipment to arrive at the grocery store nor be dismayed by overpriced, tasteless tomatoes.

Gardens are also a clear demonstration of nature’s abundance, an abundance that can be given to neighbors and distributed to those in need. When food is shared with the community, we are all more connected, secure, involved and intertwined in each other’s’ lives. At the peak of summer, gardeners leave wildly shaped zucchini on friends’ doorsteps, homeowners stop passersby with offerings of cherry tomatoes, bursting with red juice and flavor. There are no losers when you grow your own food.

As a nation we already have a history of growing and sharing food to improve our collective wellbeing. During World War II, the United States government encouraged citizens at home to grow food in empty lots, unused spaces and containers in order to free up resources to meet the needs of the troops overseas. This emphasis on and expansion of local food systems increased from Maine to California, Detroit to Dallas, the Chesapeake Bay to the Puget Sound and came to be called the Victory Garden (for more about the history of Victory Gardens, watch a YouTube video, you will have to go to YouTube and google Victory Gardens.

The Victory Garden movement benefitted the war effort and everyone’s physical health, of course, but it also improved folks’ emotional wellbeing. Citizens on the home front were working towards a common goal, relying on each other, sharing food and knowledge, knitting together new relationships and cementing existing ones. Local food systems are powerful.

Right now, in another time of uncertainty, people from all walks of life can again strengthen their own sense of food security by creating and participating in a modern-day Victory Garden movement, which CSU Extension is supporting, called “Grow and Give”.

Whether you are new to gardening or you are a veteran gardener needing new knees from years of bending and shoveling, CSU Extension’s Grow and Give website offers a host of research based fact sheets on topics ranging from site planning to seed starting to how to harvest your bounty, all designed to support you in growing and preserving your own food.

Reach out to CSU Extension if you’d like to be a part of the “Grow and Give” movement. Or find a neighbor or friend with that knowledge and learn from them. Then, pass what you have learned on to others.

We can imagine a new common goal: safe, accessible, affordable and nutritious food for all, especially in these times of scarcity. We can make food uncertainty a thing of the past. Let’s Grow and Give. Grow a garden. Give your extra tomatoes and beans to your neighbors and grow beets and onions for your local food bank.

Feeling secure in your food source and feeling strongly connected to those around you is an unequivocal victory. There will always be an abundance when we grow our own food and grow enough to share with others.

Deanna Nagel, Colorado Master Gardener, April 2020


Book Review by Noel Johnston for Weld County, Colorado Master Gardeners

The Hidden Life of Trees

The Illustrated Edition

Written By Peter Wohlleben
Translated from the Original German by Jane Billinghurst

It has been said that the perfect gift is something you really want, but would never buy for yourself. Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life of Trees” precisely fits that definition. I love books (lifelong English teacher, you know), and this one isn’t particularly expensive, but I just don’t purchase books very often any more. So, my wife gave me this lovely volume, and another tree book that I will review when I finish it, for my 72nd birthday in March. Stunning photography, and very readable and informative prose make it easy to pick up for a quick 10 minute turn, or to immerse oneself in for two hours. I suppose a person could read the entire “Hidden Life” in less than three hours, but, just as a walk in the forest is an experience to be savored and not rushed, Wohlleben’s new edition is a delight to wander through at a leisurely pace. The large size (12” x 18” in hard cover) is ideal for a coffee table book, and looking at the pictures never gets old.

Wohlleben began his career as a forester working for a timber company. He says that when he started, he “knew as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals.” (p 1) When it came to trees, the only thing he cared about was their trunks and how fit they were for making top-notch lumber. Only after he quit his job for the timber company did he begin teaching forest survival training classes. He completed a project to allow survivors to bury their loved ones in a forest. His students and visitors often showed more interest in the bizarre shaped, gnarled and crooked trees than they did the more commercially viable ones, which ultimately led Wohlleben to appreciate those trees, too. As he writes at the end of his introduction, “I invite you to share with me the joys trees can bring us.” (p 2) This review will consist of “fun facts to know and tell” from each of the book’s six chapters.

Chapter One: The Forest as Community

Wohlleben believes that trees are social beings. They are connected in many ways. He cites University of Turin (Italy) researcher Massimo Maffei’s studies that conclude that trees “are perfectly capable of distinguishing their own roots from the roots of other species and even from the roots of related individuals.” (p 8) There are advantages (for trees) from working together, since a single tree is “not a forest.” (p 12) But, Wohlleben writes, that when trees combine forces to make a forest, they create an ecosystem that “moderates extremes of heat and cold,” as well as storing great quantities of water, and they allow each other to live to be very old. (p 12)

I was surprised to learn that the key way trees communicate is with scent, much the same as people do. Instead of perfumes and deodorants, trees use flowers, blossoms, and nectars to attract or repel insects, birds, large animals, and humans.

Trees also use scent to call for help when they are in trouble. Trees can match the precise saliva of an invasive insect, and send out aroma-based alarms that summon beneficial predators to devour those pests that are bothering it.

Wohlleben ends this chapter writing, “I suspect we would pay more attention to trees if we could establish beyond a doubt just how similar they are in many ways to (us).” (p 36) And I suspect that after being constantly amazed at the information in this chapter, I shall never again look at a tree the same way that I used to.

Chapter 2 - Life Lessons

In this section, Wohlleben expresses his belief that older trees, some of which he calls the “mothers,” actually pass their genetic legacies down to their “young.” These kids, so to speak, are like human kids, raring to grow and full of energy. Most species could easily grow as much as 18 inches per year. But, the author says, the mothers’ leaf canopies are so dense that in forests, only 3% of the available sunlight reaches the leaves of the young trees. This light deprivation, of course, limits the youngsters’ abilities to photosynthesize, putting them at a level just enough to keep from dying. Thus, the young trees are forced to mature slowly, which results in stronger and more sustainable growth, which, in turn, eventually allows the younger trees to grow into full scale (and sometimes very large) adult trees.

Because human lifespans average around 75-85 years in most places, we tend to think of a tree celebrating its 100th birthday as “really old.” This idea is reinforced because most trees intended for the lumber mill are cut down between 80 and 100 years old. Left to their own devices, however, trees can live hundreds of years, and some trees have been authenticated to be more than 1000 years old.

Fun fact: a mature beech tree sends more than 130 gallons of water a day through its branches and leaves. A good day for a human adult is 80 ounces. (p 51)

Amazing fact: Some research shows that trees actually scream when they are extremely stressed. The sounds are ultra-sonic, so humans cannot hear them, but Swiss scientists discovered that vibrations occur in the trunks of trees when the flow of water from the roots to the leaves is severely interrupted. (p 56)

Wohlleben postulates that these sounds are alarms sent by suffering trees to warn neighbors that water levels are dangerously low.

Chapter 3: The Delights of Decay

Wohlleben begins this chapter discussing aging, something which all living things do. A rather unpleasant factoid here: humans slough off ten billion skin cells per day. Ugh. Wohlleben then connects the idea of human (animal) skin to the bark of trees, both which, he says, “fulfill exactly the same function of protect(ing) sensitive inner organs from an aggressive outer world.” (p 64) And trees, the same as humans, shed a portion of their “skin” a bit every day.

Here’s a fact about aging trees that is eerily similar to homo sapiens. Every tree and human at some point stops growing taller. The tree’s vascular system (think veins and arteries) simply can no longer pump enough water and nutrients any higher. Instead of growing taller, trees do what many of us senior folk do: grow wider! Old trees and old people lose body mass, until one day, “it’s all over.” (p 68) In the case of trees, the young ones, who have been waiting for decades and decades, can finally burst up into full adulthood. For humans, perhaps a parallel is that Junior finally becomes the president of the company, or the Princess, at long last, becomes Queen.

Wohlleben comments in this chapter that the human need to cut down all the dead trees has led to worsening conditions for food and housing for many, many creatures, from birds to insects to fungi. He writes, “A dead trunk is as indispensable for the cycle of life in the forest as a live tree.” (p 78) Dead and fallen spruce trees, for instance, do particularly well as a “cradle” for the seeds of the next generation of spruce.

Chapter 4: Strategies for Survival

The first section of this chapter deals with winter survival. An interesting note here is that, unlike animals who hibernate (bears, most prominently), trees cannot grow “fatter” to prepare for winter,. So trees have to fill their tissues with food, and trees get “full” much more readily than bears. Trees must also use water, of course, and they cannot do that if the water is frozen.

Did you ever wonder why deciduous trees shed their leaves in winter, and conifers do not? Wohlleben writes that deciduous trees have much broader and fatter leaves than their coniferous relatives, and thus, they shed them to avoid the possible damage of critical force winter storms. (p 89). Compared to conifers, practically nothing happens to deciduous trees over the winter.

Wohlleben believes that trees can “tell time.” (p 98). They seem to know when to send out their buds and leaves, when to shed their fruit and their leaves. Like humans, trees sense warmth and increased daylight. Beeches do not start to bud out until there are at least 13 hours of sunlight per day, regardless of heat levels in the air. Do leaves “see,” Wohlleben asks? (p 98)

Oaks and beeches, among others, native to the Northern Hemisphere and its summer and winter cycles, quickly adapt to the reverse seasons in the Southern Hemisphere. Perhaps, the author says, trees have memories. (p 99)

Chapter 5: Out on a Limb

Wohlleben opens Chapter 5 with an interesting question: Why do giant redwoods in Europe never grow particularly tall (about half the height of redwoods in the Sierra Nevadas)? The answer meshes nicely with the Master Gardener motto “Right Plant. Right Place.”

Most European redwoods were brought there as gifts and trophies for royalty, nobility, and the rich.
They were planted in city parks and on huge estates. What is missing? “Relatives,” Wohlleben says. “They are, at 150 years old… only children, growing up far from home and without their parents and (friends).” (p 112)

European soil is vastly different from that in northern California. And the soil in parks is notoriously bad, hard packed from urbanization and foot traffic. “Right Plant. Right Place,” indeed.

Street trees, urban trees, are particularly susceptible to danger. Lack of water, smog, air pollution, dogs, compacted soil, paving of roads and sidewalks and building sites, salt and other winter treatments of icy roads, are also contributors. The author says that it is no surprise that summer storms topple a much higher percentage of urban trees than those in a forest under the same conditions. (p 121)

An interesting note here is that studies now indicate that trees, like humans and animals, actually need to ”sleep.” In 1981, the German journal Gartenamt reported that 4% of oak tree deaths in New York City happened because the trees were subjected to artificial light all night every night. (p 123)

One of the side effects of my Master Gardener training is that whenever I walk past urban trees, I see all the problems they are having, and can’t stop thinking about the mistakes that were made in their planting.

The garden notes listed below would be appropriate for the Chapter 5 section of my review, the chapter about “Right Plant Right Place” and the study of the differences in growth of Giant Redwoods in Northern California, contrasted with the same trees’ growth in Europe. #630, #631, and #632 seem particularly apt.

630 – Tree Planting: Right Plant Right Place

PDF: TREE PLANTING SECTION

Chapter 6: Forest Benefits

Many, if not most, of the positive effects of trees are well known. Trees keep us cooler, they stabilize soil, the provide habitat for numberless species of animals and other plants, they filter the air, they provide beauty and they offer peace to the soul. So, it stands to reason that it is vital that we keep trees around, and “the older the tree, the more quickly it grows. If we want to use forests to combat climate change, we must allow them to grow old.” (p 133). Leaving forest alone to grow has become an increasingly difficult thing to do.

One study near Aachen, Germany, found that on a 98 degree summer day, the floor of a large deciduous forest (where the author is caretaker) was a full 50 degrees cooler than a similarly sized but thinned and trimmed coniferous plantation just two miles away. 50 degrees! (p 133)

The soil in intact forests is deep and rich, and becomes deeper each year, allowing for unparalleled opportunities for growth. Wohlleben claims that ”there are more life forms in a handful of forest soil than there are people on the (entire) planet, and a teaspoonful contains many miles of fungal filaments.” (p 141)

Wohlleben offers scientific data to support the idea that forests “make us feel better.” (p 151) For example, Korean scientists tested and tracked a group of older women when they were walking in forests and urban areas. What were the differences? At a nearly 100% rate, when these women walked in forests, their blood pressure, lung capacity, and elasticity of their arteries improved greatly. In the urban areas, none of these changes occurred.

But, in the end, he writes that without knowing any of the scientific studies, people simply breathe better, feel more rested and relaxed, feel stronger and steadier, and calmer and happier when they are amongst trees than when they are anywhere else. (p 154)

This uplifting and fact-filled book is a rejuvenating way to spend some indoor time. It’s even better read on the swing outdoors, or on the patio, or in the woods. Wohlleben ends his writing with this: “When you take your next walk in the forest, give free rein to your imagination. In many cases, what you imagine is not so far removed from reality after all!” (p 158)

Without hesitation, I recommend this book to tree enthusiasts and people who love nature. It would also be a great gift to folks who, at present, may not be particularly tuned into nature and the environment. Education is, after all, a wonderful thing.

I give “The Hidden Life of Trees” the Johnston 5-Leaf Rating.

Noel Johnston has lived in Greeley since 1976. After a 37-year career as a high school English and theater teacher, Noel has been a Master Gardener since 2017.


Growing Asparagus in the Home Garden Ruth Sens

The best time to plant asparagus was three years ago, the second best time is now. If you love fresh asparagus and want to try growing it in your home garden, this is the season in Northern Colorado to get started. In a few years of effort, you’ll be harvesting your own fresh asparagus spears.

Asparagus can be started from seed or by planting quality year-old crowns. You can buy crowns at your local garden center or order online. I bought locally so I could select crowns that had 8-10 large roots and a fat, healthy looking bud cluster. Seed should be started indoors in January for transplanting in late April. Jersey Giant, Jersey Knight, and Purple Passion are the varieties recommended for our area.

Because asparagus can produce for 10-15 years, choose a sunny (8 hours/day minimum) spot in your garden with well-drained soil where the plants will be able to grow undisturbed. Before planting, soak the crowns in warm water for 2-4 hours. Thoroughly work in four inches of well-composted organic material to a depth of twelve inches before planting – this extra effort will pay off in larger yields.

Now dig a trench that is 4-5 inches deep and place the asparagus crowns 12-18 inches apart in the trench by carefully spreading the roots out with the bud cluster facing up. Carefully back-fill the trench so the asparagus crowns are covered over with just 1-2 inches of soil at this point. CSU Extension cautions not to bury the crowns too deep in the Northern Colorado home garden as it can smother them. When the crowns start growing, slowly cover the shoots with soil each week until the trench is filled back up and level with the rest of the garden.

Do not harvest any spears for at least the first two years to allow the crowns and roots to develop fully. Some sources say to wait three years. At two or three years, you can harvest asparagus spears for 4-6 weeks in early May to mid-June.

Only harvest spears that are larger than a pencil. Do not over-harvest. Break off the spears or carefully cut with a knife below the soil level being careful to not cut other spears coming up. Then let the ferns grow until fall and stand through winter. Trim back in spring before new spears start appearing.

During the first two years, water 1-2 inches per week. Asparagus is a heavy feeder and benefits from fertilizer (10-16-8) in spring as the growth starts and again mid-summer after the harvest. Mulching around the plants with 2-3 inches of organic material will keep the soil moist, stop weed growth, and protect the plants in winter.

For more information and tips for asparagus planting, visit the CSU Extension Vegetable Garden Hints for Asparagus.