Friday, August 16, 2019

Sedum lanceolatum

by Cindy Gibson
There is a path I take almost every day as part of my morning or evening chores on our small ranch. I’m a downward-looking walker, usually making sure that I don’t trip over a new gopher mound or looking for weeds that I need to pull. However, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this little native gem seemingly to grow out of some rocks.

Commonly known as yellow stonecrop, Sedum lanceolatum can be found in the Western
United States and Canada, from Alaska and the Yukon to California and east to Colorado and South Dakota. It grows at montane or alpine elevations in open, rocky and dry locations. The plant evolved during the last ice age when higher altitude areas became isolated by glaciers.
Sedum lanceolatum
Like other sedums, it has a waxy coating on the stems and leaves to help reduce water loss. In addition, plants that have evolved in dry environments are able to keep their stomata closed during the day to conserve water. Most plants open their stomata during the day because that is when energy is received from the sun. The plant will also take in carbon dioxide and use the energy from the sun to form sugars. All the steps of photosynthesis occur during the day and oxygen is released. The sedums, cacti, and agaves are able to open their stomata at night to capture and store carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis starts the next day when the plant receives the energy from the sun. This two-step process is known as CAM photosynthesis, named after the plant where this process was first discovered.
Sedum lanceolatum rosette
Sedums belong to the Crassulaceae, or Stonecrop, family. The USDA classifies this plant as a perennial herb. It has been reported to be hardy in zones 4-9.  This succulent plant will appear in the spring with tight basal rosettes that are composed of small, narrow leaves that come to a blunt tip. The reddish leaves point upwards and become smaller as the plant grows. They often fall away by the time the plant blooms. 

The flowers will appear sometime in June and last until August. They have five narrow, lance shaped, pointed-tipped petals and a ring of protruding stamens. Most flower parts are greenish yellow in color. The stamens are tipped with yellow anthers. At the center of the flower is a five-lobed ovary, which transforms into reddish fruit in the fall. The tiny, lightweight seeds will emerge in late August when the fruit turns tan and begins to split open at the top. The plant will also grow from leaf or stem cuttings.
Flowers with ring of stamens and the five-lobed ovaries
Fun Facts about Sedum lanceolatum:
• The young stems and fleshy leaves have been used medicinally by Native Americans as a
• The flowers attract native bees, butterflies and the syrphid flies whose larvae will prey on
aphids, scale insect and thrips.
• The larvae of the alpine butterfly, Parnassium smintheus feed primarily on this plant. The
female butterfly lays her eggs on the surrounding ground vegetation. The caterpillars will
pupate within a silk cocoon located in ground debris.
• The plant produces a chemical called sarmentosin, which is a bitter-tasting deterrent to
herbivores. The Parnassium larva, however, will store this chemical and use it for their own

Now on my daily walks, I’m more apt to be looking for tiny treasures instead of weeds. Who knows what I will find next!

  • USDA Plant Database
  • Southwest Colorado Wildflowers Database
  • Native Plant Network

Cindy Gibson is a Master Gardener in Jefferson County.
All photos by Cindy Gibson

Friday, August 9, 2019

Rewards of being a Master Gardener

by Sandy Hollingsworth, Gilpin County Extension
Those of us who have completed the CSU Master Gardener training for our county Extension know it is an exciting time spent wondering if we can retain much of the information. We learn from CSU Professors, Adjunct faculty and Extension Agents who are experts in the fields of horticulture, entomology and forestry. We learn to be good attentive listeners, ask clarifying questions and use materials and CSU Fact Sheets and Garden Notes as references. After months of classes and clinics we are ready to teach and guide the public, and our neighbors, through their plant selection, garden preparations, soil amendments, fire-wise planting, home fire mitigation, pest identification, info on rain barrels, noxious weed eradication and encourage planting low water or native trees, shrubs and flowers suitable for Colorado.

In Gilpin County we are especially happy to be volunteers for our fabulous Extension Agent and some of us have been with her the past 16 years also serving on the Advisory Committee which brings together representation for the many programs under the Extension umbrella. Here are our current Master Gardeners and a bit about each of us.

Cindy Goodrich:
What do you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: I just love anything to do with dirt, gardening, and nature. The more knowledge I have, the better. And lastly, being relatively new to the area (four years), I am making a new group of friends, not only among the Master Gardeners and CSU Extension people, but also in the community we serve.

How long you have volunteered for Extension: Only a few months!

Your favorite vegetable to grow: All kinds of herbs (in pots). Veggies are definitely in my future, but not until I finish with general landscaping and mitigation. We’ve lived here for four years and still have so much basic stuff to do. 

Your favorite native to grow: Believe it or not, Scorpion Weed (Phacelia heterophylla)
! It’s not especially pretty, but it’s prolific and the bees absolutely LOVE it. Very satisfying to see them buzz around it, and it’s in bloom all summer. I also love anything scented - especially milkweed. 

Any other quote or comment: I’m looking forward to learning (so much) more and helping our wonderful mountain community! My special interests are native plants and plants for pollinators. 

Ginger Baer:
What you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: I really appreciate the knowledge I have gained in order to be able to grow in the mountains. I have gardened for over 60 years, but mostly in gentler environments. It is a challenge to grow up here, and every year is different. It is nice to know that I have many others joining in the struggle, it helps!

How long you have volunteered for Extension: 4 years

Your favorite vegetable to grow: Summer Squash – I get so many so it makes me feel successful!

Your favorite native to grow: Monarda – I love the spicy smell and it attracts so many pollinators

Sandy Hollingsworth:
What do you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: Educating and discussing with the public about land stewardship, fire mitigation, plant selection for the mountains, and tricks for a more successful garden. I enjoy listening to stories about others’ gardens and using information when volunteering for the Food Bank garden. I also enjoyed being on the first Advisory Committee to discuss Gilpin County Extension programs more broadly.

How long have you volunteered for Extension: 21 years, since 1998

Your favorite vegetable to grow: small turnips, tender and yummy! Spinach is always easy, fast and tasty.

Your favorite native to grow: Showy fleabane – it is so cheery, grown in a big bunch, and butterflies like its landing pad when in bloom.

Quote: To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. – Audrey Hepburn

Christy Hoyl:
What do you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: meeting new people in the community and sharing my passion for all things green.  It’s super fun working alongside other MG’s and hearing their stories too.  I love the opportunities for continuing education, conferences and workshops.  Especially wonderful is getting your hands in the dirt and seeing the plants grow!

How long have you volunteered for Extension: since 2001, so 18 years.

Your favorite vegetables to grow: salad greens (many varieties) and carrots. The grandkids love to go pick the carrots and eat them right there in the garden.

Your favorite Native to grow: Blue Flax linum lewsii - love the color. My favorite native (but I don’t grow) - is the Alpine Forget-me-not and Rosa woodsii.

Here is an Edwardian poem:
Tis like the birthday of the world,
When Earth was born in bloom;
The light is made of many dyes
The air is all perfume.

Christy Swarts:
How long have you volunteered for Extension: 3 years.

What do you like most about being a MG: Meeting new people who share the same passion for gardening.  The knowledge network is tremendous.

What are your favorite vegetables to grow: all cucumber varieties. Not so easy though up here in the high country.

What is your favorite Native to grow: Columbine

2019 Gilpin County Extension Master Gardeners with
 Irene Shonle, Extension Agent, (right)

Friday, August 2, 2019

Taming a lilac bush

by Vicky Barney 
A lilac is a wonderful bush in most gardens, adding fragrance and color early in the gardening season.  It requires little attention and will adapt to its site, be it sunny or shady, wet or dry, and provides early season nectar to pollinators.  After 5 or 6 years, however, it needs some attention if you want a bush that continues to bloom well and look pretty.  My old and neglected lilac bush clearly needs some attention.

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), brought to the US in the 1700’s and originating in Asia, looks best in a tended cottage garden or as a riotous hedge.   It does not fit well in my native garden.  Each spring, I’m tempted to remove it and then it blooms: beautiful and fragrant flowers among rich green leaves.   Then I think I should move it to a different location, one that is a little less “wild.”  A little research has helped with the decision.

Moving/Removing - Lilacs will grow anywhere but bloom best in a sunny location.  As its current location is semi-shady, my bush would fare better in another area.  But moving it is not a good option nor is removing it all together.  Lilacs form huge root balls that are hard to move, and any roots left behind will sprout new plants.  Unless I want a major excavation project or lilac shoots all over the yard, the bush needs to remain in place.

Pruning - Adopting an annual maintenance routine will result in a prettier and healthier bush.  Since it is a spring flowering shrub, pruning is best done right after the flowers have died and before next year’s buds form. Deadhead the flowers, remove unhealthy looking stems and leaves, and trim the shape.  Periodic thinning of older stems will improve flowering and keep the blossoms from getting out of reach.   CSU Extension’s Garden Notes #619 has detailed information about pruning and includes a great photo of what not to do.

Companion planting - A lilac bush may look more attractive if additional spring bloomers are added to the flower bed.  Spring flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips, hyacinths – are good companion plants, similarly adaptable and equally stunning in spring.

I’ve made peace with my lilac bush and am making it look better by taking generous cuttings while it is blooming and the air is fragrant.   With regular pruning the bush will be tamed, but after I’ve enjoyed its flowers both indoors and out. 
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Managing bindweed in the garden

by Vicky Barney
Before I found it in my garden, I thought field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis var. linearifoliu) was a rather pretty plant.  It looks like a morning glory (in the Convolvulus family), growing along the ground or as a vine, and producing pretty white or pink flowers.  But unlike Morning glory, it grows extremely quickly, takes over gardens and lawns, returns year after year, and is nearly impossible to eradicate. 

Field bindweed can be distinguished from morning glory by its arrowhead shaped leaves and its ability to grow in nearly any environment – in yards, along roads, in pastures.  One plant will grow an extensive underground root system that may travel 10 feet deep and contain a 2-3 year food supply.  It will produce up to 300 seeds that stay viable in the soil for 40 years.  And it cannot be dug out easily - the stems are fragile and any root piece left in the soil will produce a new plant.
Field Bindweed
Because of the tenacity and invasive nature of this non-native, the Colorado Noxious Weed Act has identified field bindweed as a “List C” species, which means local government may require it be contained, eradicated, or suppressed.  It may never be completely eradicated in our gardens, but it can be contained and suppressed if we are consistent with healthy gardening practices.
Vigilance – Look for bindweed when weeding or after introducing new soil or new plants into your yard. (My bindweed arrived in the soil of a nursery grown shrub.) Young seedlings can be removed if roots are dug several inches below the soil.   Established plants should be cut or pulled at the surface as soon as possible, stressing the plant and slowing its growth.
Mulch – Bindweed grows best in sunshine.  Mulching regularly will discourage growth.
Healthy Soil – Improving the nutrient balance of your soil will discourage most weeds.  A soil test will determine the necessary steps to soil health specific to your yard. (

For large dry land infestations of field bindweed, a biological control is available.  CSU’s Plant Talk 1493 has more details on using the bindweed mite. (

CSU’s Plant Talk: Controlling Bindweed ( includes a discussion of using herbicides.  Like the controls listed above, this method requires several years of vigilance.  It also requires careful application to minimize damage to surrounding life.  It is not an option for those of us cultivating wildlife friendly yards.

Perseverance and healthy gardening practices will discourage nuisance weeds like field bindweed.  Fortunately, these same routines will keep our gardens flourishing.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Rise of Spruce Beetle in the Colorado Mountains

by Emily Jack-Scott (Garfield County Master Gardener Apprentice)
The spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) is currently the leading insect responsible for killing trees in Colorado, having usurped mountain pine beetle in 2012 (2017 Report, CSFS). These bark beetles have swept through hundreds of thousands of acres of forested lands in the Colorado Rockies in recent years. Since 2000, close to 2 million acres have been impacted across Colorado. Counties most heavily impacted between 1996-2018 include Hinsdale, Mineral, Saguache, Gunnison, Conejos, and Rio Grande; each experiencing hundreds of thousands of affected acres. (2018 Report, CSFS)
Figure 1 Tree mortality in Colorado caused by mountain pine beetle vs. spruce beetle. Spruce beetle overtook pine beetle as the lead insect pest in 2012. Credit: 2017 Report on the Health of Colorado's Forests (CSFS)
Spruce bark beetles are a native species, endemic to the Rocky Mountains. In Colorado, the beetles favor high alpine (above 9,000’) Engelmann spruce, but will also attack Colorado blue spruce and Norway spruce, and at lower elevations. At usual low endemic levels the beetles target dead trees, from windfall events or the like. But once they rise to epidemic levels they will attack live trees, initially favoring larger diameter trees (over 16” diameter), progressively targeting smaller spruces down to 3” diameter. Larvae overwinter under the bark of infested trees, emerging as adults and flying to new host trees between May and July the following year. Once they find a new host, adults chew through a host tree’s bark to tunnel around in the tree’s cambium and outer-most sapwood just beneath the bark, creating elaborate tunneling patterns known as galleries. It is in these galleries that they will lay their eggs, which will hatch into larvae in the fall and start the life cycle over again (2018 Report, CSFS; CSFS Quick Guide).
Figure 2 Tree mortality caused by spruce beetle. Credit: USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection. Source: William M. Ciesla collection; Fort Collins, Colorado.
What to look for:
Signs include the small dark brown beetles or white creamy larvae themselves. Symptoms include frass (insect poop, appearing as a fine sawdust from boring activity) collecting in the furrows of bark along the trunk, thin streamers of sap running down the trunk, visible small holes in the trunk with or without pitch tubes (see Figure 3), increased woodpecker activity, and/or the yellowing and eventual dropping of needles. Unlike pines attacked by mountain pine beetle the needles do not turn a vibrant red before falling off. Rather they fade to a sickly green before drying out entirely and falling off over time (CSFS Quick Guide).

Figure 3 Pitch tubes Credit:  USDA Forest Service
Spruce beetle is not confined to forested areas, and therefore should be on the radar of gardeners and landscapers in the mountains. Spruce beetle can sometimes favor trees in landscaped and urban settings, which may be under additional pressures and adverse growing conditions. Other factors that can make trees more at risk are drought stress, recent fires, increasingly mild winter low temperatures, and abundance of spruce in an area (Spruce Beetle UAF).

The Colorado mountains have not only experienced these stressors in recent years, but most recently incurred historic avalanches during the 2019 winter. These avalanches resulted in the disturbance, uprooting, and death of countless spruce, serving as magnets for spruce beetles. This will likely increase spruce beetle pressure in forests and yards of the high mountains that were otherwise minimally impacted over the last few decades (see map below of recent spruce beetle activity in Colorado). 
What you can do:
Options for prevention are limited. Pyrethroid insecticides can be sprayed on tree trunks during flight windows (May-July), and very new research is confirming that certain formulations of MCH[S1] [EJ2]  pheromone packets (namely MCH-AKB) has efficacy deflecting beetle attacks. These pheromone packets release a scent that sends a false signal to beetles that a tree of forest stand has already been infested by spruce beetles, so new beetles pass over such trees (Hansen et al. 2019). Once trees have been attacked, they should be felled and either completely removed from a location (including chips and slash), or should be cut and stacked in an area with full sun and covered completely with clear plastic. (Spruce Beetle, CSFS)

2017 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests. Colorado State Forest Service.

2018 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests. Colorado State Forest Service.

Hansen, E.M., Munson, A.S., Wakarchuk, D., Blackford, D.C., Graves, A.D., Stephens, S. and Moan, J.E., 2019. Advances in Semiochemical Repellents to Mitigate Host Mortality From the Spruce Beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae). Journal of economic entomology.

Spruce Beetle – Trees/Forests at Risk. University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Despite beetle threat, Aspen-area avy debris to remain. Aspen Times. July 2, 2019.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Noxious weed look alikes – don’t pull the wrong plant!

by Irene Shonle
It is heartening to see so many people being committed stewards of their land who are working to eradicate the noxious weeds on their property.  Thank you to everyone who is participating!  A word of caution -  it is possible to be a little too enthusiastic. This happens when someone pulls or treats the wrong plant – a plant that has the misfortune of looking like a noxious weed. These look-alike plants are often native, and can provide good habitat for pollinators, or at the very least, will occupy space that otherwise could be invaded by a noxious weed, so it’s best to learn how to distinguish which is which.

Some of the most common mistaken identities up here are:

  • Golden banner/yellow toadflax,
  • Pineapple weed/scentless chamomile,
  • Cutleaf daisy/oxeye daisy 
  • Fireweed/purple loosestrife.

Golden banner is a native plant – it blooms in the spring, and has solid yellow flowers, and three-lobed (trifoliate) leaves. Yellow toadflax blooms in the second half of summer with two-tone yellow flowers with a darker throat, and has strap-shaped leaves.
Golden banner

Yellow toadflax
Pineapple weed, while an introduced plant, is not on the noxious weed list. It is, however, having a very good year, and can be easily controlled by hoeing or pulling.  It has ferny leaves that, when crushed, smell like pineapple. The whole plant only gets to 6-8” tall at the most. It develops small yellow buttons, but never white ‘petals’ (ray flowers). Scentless chamomile also has ferny leaves, but they have no odor (the plant names give good ID clues). It gets up to 3’ tall, and has hundreds of white flowers.
Pineapple weed
Scentless chamomile
Cutleaf daisy is a native plant with small white flowers and finely cut leaves that could look a little ferny. It can (and has been) mistaken for pineapple weed, scentless chamomile and oxeye daisy. The flowers on the native bloom in the spring, and the foliage has no smell. The whole plant is no taller than about 4” tall. Oxeye daisy blooms mid-summer, and has much larger flowers, as well as broader leaves with teeth (not ferny). The plant grows 1’-3’ tall.
Cut-leaf daisy and penstemon
Oxeye daisy
Fireweed is a native plant with 4 pink petals. It blooms mid-summer to fall. The leaves are alternate, and the plant can grow up to 4’ tall. Purple loosestrife is not known to be up at this elevation, but people have frequently pulled out fireweed by mistake. Loosestrife has opposite leaves (or even whorled – meaning that four leaves come out of the stalk at the same place). It has 5-7 purple petals and can grow up to 8’ tall. 

Finally, we have many wonderful native thistles, and it’s easier to just learn to recognize our two common noxious thistles, Canada thistle and musk thistle, rather than all of the native thistles. Musk thistle has large, solitary purple flowers with a formidable row of teeth under the flower. The leaves have a whitish edge. Canada thistle usually forms thickets due to the root system, and has clusters of small purple flowers.  See below table for a quick reference to distinguishing these plants.

Native plant
Noxious weed
Golden Banner
Solid yellow, spring
Yellow toadflax
Two-toned with a darker throat, Mid-late summer
(Pineapple weed – not native, but not noxious)
Just a yellow button, spring-mid summer
Ferny, smells of pineapple
Scentless chamomile
White flowers, Mid-late summer
Ferny, odorless
Cutleaf daisy
Small white flower, spring
Finely cut, a little ferny
Oxeye daisy
Large, white, blooms
Small teeth on leaves
4-petals, pink, mid-late summer
Alternate leaves
Purple loosestrife
5-7 pink petals, mid-late summer
Square stem, 4 or more leaves come out of same place on stalk (whorled)
Native thistles
Varies – white, pink, brownish
Varies – usually very white on underside
Noxious thistles (especially Canada and Musk)

For more information on thistles, see this brochure:

Irene Shonle is the CSU Extension Agent and Director in Gilpin County

Friday, July 5, 2019

Mosquitoes Already??

by Barbara Sanders
Even though we have had a crazy wet, cold, snowy, late Spring, the mosquitoes are out buzzing our ears and are procreating en masse. You may even be seeing their larvae wiggling in standing water.
Mosquitoes spread diseases by biting a disease-infected animal or bird and them moving to another for more food. Zika virus is spread by the Aedes species which doesn’t live in Colorado. West Nile virus spreads by the mosquitoes of the Culex species which feed from the evenings until morning. They carry the virus after feeding on infected birds. The symptoms of a bite from a mosquito with WNV for humans may be mild but it is best to consult with a health care provider. Horses, however, are in more danger and should be vaccinated by a veterinarian.

First line of defense is to remove all standing water! After every rain! Buckets, pots, saucers, bird baths. And check any other standing water frequently for the wiggling larvae.  Also, the mosquitoes like dark shrubbery. You could trim back a bit or use a spray. More on that in a bit.
There are several ways to protect ourselves from mosquito bites. Repellents come in many formulations. The synthetic repellent called deet is the most studied and used for over 40 years. The plant derived repellents containing citronella and other essential oils are as effective as deet but must be applied more often. Products containing permethrin as the active ingredient (an insecticide having some repellent properties) may be applied to clothing but not to skin. There are also devices using ultraviolet light, CO2, or an attractant. I call them “Bug zappers”, not terribly effective and they also kill a lot of beneficial insects.

Recommended products to kill the mosquitoes can be divided into two main groups: Larvicides and Adulticides. The first, Larvicides, eliminate the larvae before they emerge from the water as adults. These work on bird baths, ponds, water features, stock tanks and areas of standing water. The safest contain Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis known as Bti: Aquabac, Vectobac (which can be mixed in a sprayer), Mosquito Dunks, and Mosquito Bits (which can be broadcast). I love the dunks because they are easily found in stores and online. They are safe around pets, children, fish and birds.

Adulticides kill the adult mosquitoes. They are not very long lived but work well before an outdoor function in the evening and in the dark shrubbery where the mosquitoes will rest between bites. Look for products containing Permethrin: Safer Mosquito control, Raid Yard Guard, Ortho Outdoor Insect Fogger, and others. 

More questions may be answered by visiting the website  The website has a wealth of information as we are thawing out and are in our yards and gardens.

Barbara Sanders, Colorado Master Gardener since 1998.