Friday, March 20, 2020

Early Spring Discoveries on the San Francisco Peninsula

Early Spring Discoveries on the San Francisco Peninsula
By Jan Boone

I recently had the opportunity to spend free time on the San Francisco Peninsula in Palo Alto and surrounding areas by Stanford University. It reinforced the notion as gardeners, we should seek out, educate ourselves and be aware of plant materials and growing habitats outside our own high-altitude favorites. 

For the moment, I put aside the frequent battles with temperature variations, weather and short growing seasons to partake in new knowledge. Should you happen to be in the Bay Area, plot your course carefully, you’re apt to find anything from fun glass beads strung and hung from a garden pergola, peppers on the vine, bountiful pyracantha berries and even lush succulents or blooming annuals happily nested in backyard containers. Here’s a brief overview of what I’ve discovered. Investigate older residential neighborhoods around the campus and you’ll notice there are special gems that one many innocently drive by, ignoring the benefits and beauty they contain for all.

Plants in a garden in the San Francisco Area

Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park
Off the beaten track in a residential area of Menlo Park and situated along the northern side of Sand Creek you’ll find a tasteful collection of older Spanish style buildings housing a restaurant, gift shop and gallery space. Stop and discover the surrounding special small pocket gardens with water features and seasonal annuals adding to the mix. Wander freely and you’ll enjoy seeing a garden of blues from hydrangeas to asters to Blue Nile Lilies; the garden of abundance in golds and their rich Rose Allee. All proceeds from sales here go to Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford.  
Fuchsia, Blue Hydragena from Allied Arts Guild

Allied Arts Guild Garden

Pollinator Garden at Corner of Embarcadero and Guinda Street in Palo Alto
Truly a unique space that is essentially a large traffic triangle. This garden received grant money from the Happy Hollow Foundation and together with neighborhood and city help, a miraculous transition began in 2018. Now complete, a brief stroll around this small garden contains signage about the native plants as well as pollinator info for those that stop by for a visit! Also, further east you will find a similar community supported traffic island garden at the intersection of Embarcadero on Primrose Way. This busy island divider focuses on CA native plants that appeal to pollinators, also signed with helpful information.

Elizabeth Gamble Garden further west on Embarcadero and Waverly Street in Palo Alto. 
The granddaughter of the co-founder of Proctor & Gamble built the main house here in 1902. These gardens became public property in Palo Alto in 1985, supported by the Palo Alto Garden Club and local Master Gardeners. Together with corporate sponsors, they now have a non-profit dedicated to the ongoing care and upkeep of this historic residential property. You’ll miss this if you’re zipping along Embarcadero, but a stop is well worth the effort to enjoy their numerous special planting beds. These include a rose garden, kitchen garden, cutting garden, iris beds and shade garden to name a few. No admission required and a small free parking area is available on the north side of the property.

This is the case of saving the best for last. Hardly a small garden gem (at 600+ overall acres), but more in the nature of a true country estate situated at the SW edge of Woodside and just south of Crystal Springs reservoir off Hwy 280. Here you’ll find a cafĂ©, gift shop, the historic estate home with many connections to California history. There are 16 acres of formal gardens; a reclaimed orchard (originally supported by California rare fruit growers), and planting beds all highlighted by holly, laurel, yew and other woody trees and shrubs. It is striking to see the integration of older brick walls used in reclaiming some of the more traditional garden spaces. The restored garden beds vary as they reflect trends of horticulture materials and landscaping during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is all part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Besides the gardens mentioned above, don’t overlook the Botanical Gardens on the Stanford campus. Additionally, UC Agriculture Programs (including Master Gardeners) have experimental stations just west, over the coastal hills and south of Half Moon Bay. Call for reservation information before visiting. Wander west to Half Moon Bay along Hwy 92 from Hwy 280 and stop by the easily identified roadside orchid grower greenhouses here. (Tip … visit greenhouses on your way east, as Hwy 92 is only a two-lane road and extremely busy. A righthand turn onto Hwy 92 is much safer).  

Succulents in a San Francisco area garden
Enjoy the treasures you may find among the highlights mentioned above. There are so many possible destinations to visit in the Bay Area from Golden Gate Park to Berkeley’s UC Botanical Gardens. I hope focusing on this specific peninsula area will provide new experiences in your travels. Enjoy!
Small garden area

Friday, March 13, 2020

Cool Season Annuals for Mountain Gardens

Cool Season Annuals for Mountain Gardens
By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin CSU Extension

When I am scrolling through Instagram seeing lovely pictures of warm-season annuals like zinnias, Mexican sunflowers and tall annual sunflowers, I usually feel a longing to grow them too. I start thinking, “could I possibly grow them in my high elevation (8,400’) garden with cool night temperatures and short frost-free season?” Strategizing, “maybe I could start them early from seed and transplant them into a location with a warm microclimate” or “maybe I could grow them from seed in the garden and only save seed from the ones that do well in my garden-- if I do this selection for several years, I might have a variety that would work for me!” 

But in reality, for me, it makes much more sense to grow the things I can grow easily! I have the perfect garden for cool-season annuals! And if you garden in the mountains, you probably do too!

Following are just a few of the easiest cool-season annuals to grow:

Pansies, Viola x wittrockiana

My grandmother grew pansies in front of a stone retaining wall at her house in Telluride. She would let me pick an arm full of the cheery, fragrant blooms and put them in a cute glass frog vase.This photo is pansies in that vase.

Pansies, Viola x wittrockiana

In flower language, pansies are known for love, especially thoughts of love. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. They can be started from seed and set out in early spring, as soon as the snow melts. They can be planted out again in the late summer or fall. In my garden, I can usually just cut them back if they get leggy, and they will re-bloom.

For more about growing pansies and pansy varieties:

For info about very cold-hardy pansies check out the page for the CSU Annual Flower Trial Garden

Calendula, pot marigold, Calendula officinalis

Calendula have cheery, large flowers that look similar to zinnias, but they only come in oranges and yellows. There are some recent selections that are more peachy-orange.  They are easy to start from seed, either as transplants or directly in the garden. Calendula should bloom the entire summer in a cool mountain garden. They also make a good cut flower.

Calendula, pot marigold, Calendula officinalis

Like pansies, they are edible, hence, the common name pot marigold. However, they are not the same species as what we commonly refer to as ‘marigolds’, which are Tagetes spp. Calendula is also used in making homemade salves that sooth the skin. They say the best variety for this is ‘Resina.’  Calendula is the British floral emblem for the month of October. 

For information on how to make a skin salve from Calendula flowers go to this blog:

Poppies, Papaver spp.

My grandmother also planted a small orange poppy mixed with her pansies. I haven’t been able to definitely figure out which species it was, but it could have been alpine poppies, because they were pretty small plants. However, some Icelandic poppies are short too. I took this photo of self-seeded poppies growing in an alley garden in Silverton last summer.   

Poppies, Papaver spp.

Annual poppies, like Papaver nudicaule, Papaver alpinus, Papaver somnifera, and Papaver rhoes do best in cool summers and alkaline soil. Choosing from these species will give a range in size and color, from white, pink, purple, yellow, orange and red. You can sow seeds into loose garden soil in the fall, or start transplants to set out in early spring. If they are in a happy location, they will re-seed. Some poppies make edible seeds. In flower folklore, poppies have many magical meanings and uses. 

There are so many different varieties of poppies we can grow. I recommend you do an internet search! 

Sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus

WARNING: ornamental sweet peas are NOT edible!!! 

There are tall vining varieties as well as short varieties. They were so popular in the late 1800’s that breeders developed many colorful, large flowered varieties that sadly didn’t inherit the fragrance of their grandparents. Sweet peas with true sweet pea fragrance are still hard to find. Plant seeds in the early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Soak them overnight first to soften the hard seed coat. 

Sweet peas, Lathyrus odoratus
Some varieties have longer stems that make good cut flowers. In the language of flowers, sweet peas mean “departure” or “adieu.” They are often considered the flower for April. 

Irene Shonle wrote a Colorado Mountain Gardener blog about sweet peas back in 2015.  To read it again, go here

Friday, March 6, 2020

The Holiday Flower Amaryllis
By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

Fantasica Amaryllis
I received two lovely pink and red Amaryllis bulbs for the holidays this year from my wife and daughter. I planted both bulbs immediately. Much to my surprise they both started growing shortly after planting. The pink one grew to six inches before it bloomed with four big beautiful blossoms. The red one grew to 14 inches and has four big red blossoms. They have been a joy.  

I have had Amaryllis before but none this large. I became curious and did a lot of research on the internet and this blog is a result of that research. Amaryllis plants are just a lot of fun and so beautiful. Some believe they are fast replacing the Poinsettia as the go to Holiday flower.

Native to Peru and South Africa, the genus Amaryllis comes from the Greek word amarysso, which means "to sparkle." Bulbs were brought to Europe in the 1700s and have been known to bloom for up to 75 years. Today, most amaryllis are hybrids but are still classified in the genus Hippeastrum.

Amaryllis flowers range from four to ten inches in size, and can be either single or double in form. Amaryllis varieties include various shades of red, white, pink, salmon and orange. There are also many striped and multicolored varieties, usually combining shades of pink or red with white.
Picotee Amaryllis

Of all flowering bulbs, amaryllis are the easiest to bring to bloom, indoors or out, and over an extended period of time.
If you cannot plant the bulbs immediately after receiving them, store them at a cool temperature between 40-50 degrees F. 

Prepare the bulbs for planting by putting the base and roots of the bulb in lukewarm water for a few hours. Plant bulbs in a nutritious potting compost, many are available pre-mixed. Plant the bulb up to its neck in the potting compost, being careful to not damage the roots. Press the soil down firmly to set the bulb securely in place after planting.

Plant the bulb, or place the potted bulb in a warm place with direct light since heat is necessary for the development of the stems. The ideal temperature is 68 to 70 degrees F. Water sparingly until the stem appears. As the bud and leaves appear, gradually water more. 
At this point, the stem will grow rapidly and flowers will develop when it has reached full height. Bulbs will flower in seven to ten weeks as a general rule. Mine blossomed in three to four weeks.

In winter the flowering time will be longer than in spring. Set up your planting schedule between October and April with this in mind. To achieve continuous bloom, plant at intervals of two weeks for stunning color in your home or garden.

After your amaryllis has stopped flowering, it can be made to flower again. Cut the old flowers from the stem, and when the stem starts to sag, cut it back to the top of the bulb. Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer, or for at least five to six months, allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow.

When the leaves begin to yellow, which normally occurs in early fall, cut the leaves back to about two inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil. Clean the bulb and place it in a cool (40-50 deg. F), dark place such as the refrigerator for a minimum of six to eight weeks. Caution: do not store amaryllis bulbs in a refrigerator that contains apples, this will sterilize the bulbs.

After six to eight weeks, remove bulbs and plant them. Plant bulbs eight weeks before you would like them to bloom.

I really like my bulbs and look forward to growing them again next year.
Red Pearl Amaryliss

Growing and caring for amaryllis | UMN Extension

Flower pictures courtesy of The University of Minnesota Extension  

Friday, February 28, 2020

An Oldie But A Goodie

An Oldie But Goodie
By Kristina Hughes
Clear Creek County Master Gardener
Clinician, Diagnostic Plant Clinic, Jefferson County Extension

Have you ever found tiny holes in the leaves of your spinach plant and wondered what caused them? Or have you found little caterpillars demolishing your rose buds before they could become flowers? Or maybe one year your pea plant didn’t grow as vigorously as you’d expected.

There are so many maladies that can affect our garden and it can be hard to figure out exactly which of the many possibilities is the actual culprit in any given instance. A lot of damage looks similar and everyone, from your neighbor to the garden center, has advice about their own fool-proof remedy.

In the Diagnostic Plant Clinic at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, we sort through the confusion and get to the bottom of all kinds of plant problems. We use lots of different books and websites to identify the most likely culprit.

Pests of the West by Dr. Whitney Cranshaw
A favorite resource of our most seasoned Clinicians is Pests of the West, revised edition c1998 by Dr. Whitney Cranshaw. It is a small book, but it covers an impressive array of topics in simple straightforward language. It focuses on common issues in our region and it is especially good for solving vegetable problems.

Using our first example above, you can dive right in and look up common disorders of spinach. ‘Holes in leaves’ are likely caused by flea beetles. Go to page 87 to find further details on Western Cabbage Flea Beetle (Phyllotreta pusilla). Typical damage of flea beetles is described, so you can double-check if it’s a good match for what you see on your plant. If it is a good match, read on for control methods.

Dr. Cranshaw includes many control options, from beneficial insects and cultural practices, which enhance the health of the plant, to chemical controls of varying intensity. If you want to better understand how the control methods work, Cranshaw includes detailed information about each control strategy to help you decide which is appropriate for your situation. The book takes the guess work out of trouble-shooting garden problems.

Most garden books are geared toward climates with more moisture than ours, and it can be hard to find advice appropriate for our climate. Pests of the West addresses issues specific to the arid west. In the introduction Cranshaw states “a discussion of soil problems unique to the West is...the place to start.” Chapter 1 tells us salts are common in arid areas and goes on to explain why. He says “potassium is rarely deficient” in our region. And clay soils hold water, which can be an advantage in our arid climate. I have found this to be true in my personal experience gardening in Colorado. He then goes on to discuss the pros and cons of clay soil.

There are chapters on a wide range of topics and in each Cranshaw highlights issues particular to our area. The chapter on butterfly gardening has a table listing plants used by the butterflies that live in our region. Birds eat insects, especially when raising their young. Pests of the West includes advice on attracting specific, western birds to nest in your garden.

There is a section on mammal garden pests, including an extensive discussion of deer, which are a huge issue for us the mountains. Cranshaw describes the damage done by deer as ‘ragged’ because deer lack upper incisors. This is different from the very clean cuts made by rabbits, which have both upper and lower front teeth.

There is so much more contained in this book, I could go on and on. I really appreciate how small the book is and its accessible style. I have used it as a reference book in the past but after reviewing it more closely for this article, I am even more impressed with its breadth and how well it hones in on issues specific to our region, which are often neglected in mainstream garden books.

It does not address lawns, which are rare in the mountains anyway, nor landscape plants. The focus is vegetables, fruits, iris and roses. The photos are black and white, but it is easy enough to find photos on the internet once you have narrowed down the possible problems. Even though the book is older, I find the information to be very relevant.

Pests of the West, revised edition is an excellent all-around reference for understanding the issues we face in our Colorado gardens and for solving garden problems common to our area. It was published by Fulcrum Publishing in Golden, CO in 1998. Used copies are readily available online.

PS - I lost all of my rosebuds one year to Tobacco Budworm (Heliothis virescens), page 103. And slow growing pea plants can be due to high temperatures, page 61.

Friday, February 14, 2020

A Heart-Shaped Fruit

A Heart-Shaped Fruit by Susan Carter

With Valentine’s Day this month, I thought I would write about a red heart-shaped fruit, the strawberry. Last week we took a trip down to Ouray and on the way home we stopped at Russell Stover’s in Montrose. They had a huge sign, “Strawberries are Here.” My daughter decided that would be her gimme. Well they gave her the biggest strawberry I had ever seen. It weighed ½ lb and was covered in chocolate. That was her entire lunch. When I asked if the strawberry was from California, the sales women nodded in agreement.

Fragaria virginiana
Photo from
We might not be able to grow ½ lb. strawberries (someone prove me wrong), but we can grow them. At altitude we naturally have wild strawberries.

One is the Fragaria virginiana, Wild Strawberry, which grows in the Foothills to subalpine life zones. It blooms March-August and produces small red fruit. 

I love to pick a few while out hiking but feel guilty that I am stealing from the birds and mammals. Wild strawberries are available in the nursery trade and make good groundcovers, but the small fruit do make it hard to make a batch of jelly.

Fragaria vesca
And we have Fragaria vesca, woodland strawberry, which grows in mesic sites from plains to montane life zones. White blooms from March – May produce small edible fruits. This plant is ever-bearing, meaning it blooms and sets fruit a few times over several months.

We can grow strawberry cultivars at altitude.
I used to manage a nursery at 8100’, lived at 9600’, and preferred the ever-bearing or day neutral strawberries to the June bearing because some years I still had snow in early June on the ground. June bearing just bears once a year but produces the bigger fruit, maybe where that half pounder came from. Day neutrals do not care so much about the length of day, so they will set fruit continually. Some of the hardiest ever-bearing varieties of strawberries are Ogallala and Fort Laramie. 

Always buy certified disease-free plants.  Be sure to prepare your soil with a good compost. Pay careful attention to the planting depth, as they are extremely finicky about it. 

Strawberry plant diagram

Plants will need more water when they are fruiting. And they can have cold damage so don’t set plants out too early. Use straw and frost covers to protect your plants. We have a factsheet that goes into more detail about planting strawberries.

Make sure to get your fruit before the birds, chipmunks and other wildlife do. Netting can help with keeping them at bay. Contact your local Extension office for more specifics in your area.  For now, enjoy the out of state heart shaped fruits, and enjoy the fruits of your labor later on. Nothing beats a fresh strawberry right out of the garden. Happy Valentine’s Day.

Friday, January 31, 2020

There's No Mold Like Snow Mold

Written by Jim Janks
Gunnison County Advanced Master Gardener

This winter has brought heavy snow to many mountain areas. As a result, one of the things that we can expect in our turf grass areas is a fungus known as Snow Mold. (See figures 1, 2, 3, & 4) Snow mold affects all cool season grasses, such as Tall Fescue and Kentucky Bluegrass. They appear primarily in two forms, Gray Snow Mold, Typhula incarnata and Typhula ishikariensis or Pink Snow Mold, Microdochium nivale. It is possible to have both types of snow mold in one area. 
Typhula ishikariensis infections may progress down to the root crown and may cause more severe and lasting damage. T. incarnata infections are normally less severe. Patches of T. incarnata also tend to recover more quickly in the spring.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3
Figure 4

Depending on the height of the mown grass, the shape of the infections may vary. On grass cut ¾” or less, the size and shape of gray snow mold is roughly round and 6” to 12” in diameter. On grass mown taller, the size and shape of the infections may not be as well defined. These patches enlarge by radial expansion of mycelium (the mass of fine branching tubes, know as hyphae, that forms the main growing structure of the fungus) under the snow. The Typhula spp. survive in the form of sclerotia (skil – ro – she – a). These are survival structures often found embedded in dead leaf tissue or in thatch. (See Figures 5 And 6) These sclerotia vary in size and color, becoming smaller and darker as they dry.
Formation of gray snow mold requires snow cover for infection and patch development. Another condition which is favorable for gray snow molds are temperatures just above freezing, 32 degrees F - 36 degrees F. The optimal conditions for snow mold activity occur when snow falls suddenly and remains on ground that has not been frozen.

Figure 5
Figure 6


The most important means of preventing or reducing snow mold problems is the care of the grass at the end of the summer season. Fall fertilizer programs should be timed so that there is no burst of succulent green growth which makes the grass prone to winter injury. Fertilizers should be timed when the leaf blade growth has stopped, yet is still green. Because snow mold activity is greatest beneath covers that maintain moist conditions, all leaves or other materials should be removed from the lawn. In the spring, rake away dead and matted areas of grass to allow the new growth to begin and to allow air movement within the turf canopy.


Fungicide applications for snow mold are not recommended for home lawns except in extreme cases. Fungicides are most effective if applied just before the first snow fall.


Pink Snow Mold, Microdochium nivale, is the other snow mold we are likely to run into in this type of season. The common name of this disease, however, is deceiving. Pink snow mold is only pink in certain environmental conditions, so do not be too quick to diagnose. The sure way to diagnose which snow mold you have is by the kind of spores they produce. In gray snow mold look for the sclerotia (Figures 5 & 6) and in pink snow mold look for mycelial threads (Figures 7 & 8). The pink snow mold produces large numbers of microscopic crescent shaped spores in sticky masses (Figure 9). This snow mold blights the leaves, but is not reported to affect roots or crowns. Pink snow mold is most prevalent on turf maintained at heights of three inches or more. This pathogen, unlike grey snow mold, may be active over a broader temperature range, from 30 degrees F to 60 degrees F. Because of this, pink snow mold does not require snow cover for infection and may be active for longer periods of time.
Figure 7
Figure 8

Figure 9

With pink snow mold, the spores are carried primarily by splashing water, flowing water, air currents, or turf grass equipment. Pink snow mold also favors alkaline turf surfaces. Home lawn care for pink snow mold is the same for as for gray snow mold.

References: Snow mold fact sheets from Purdue University Extension, University of Rhode Island Extension, Utah State University Extension and University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Where Do Bees Go In Winter?

Where Do Bees Go in the Winter?

By: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

I have been asked a few times what happens to the bees in the winter. Bees and other insects have special adaptations, so their species survives from year to year. Here is a look at bee adaptations and life cycles in the winter time.

Honey Bees
Worker bees foraged all summer and into fall bringing in food reserves to last them the winter. When temperatures start to drop, honey bees huddle together to make a cluster and shiver their wings. Shivering provides warmth for the hive. Their main goal is to keep the queen warm so the colony can survive. The core temperature in the hive can be as high as approximately 91 degrees Fahrenheit. A healthy hive with adequate food storage is more likely to survive, which reinforces the importance of best beekeeping practices by the beekeeper all year. Read how to prep a hive for winter here.

A honey bee, Apis mellifera. Photo: Lisa Mason

Solitary Bees
Solitary bees live a one-year life cycle. During the life cycle, a female bee builds a nest underground or in a cavity. She will collect pollen and nectar to bring back to the nest. All the collected pollen and nectar is made into a ball called “bee bread” which will be all the food needed for one growing bee. The female lays an egg on the bee bread and seals up the nest. After the egg hatches, the larva will go through full metamorphosis from a larva, to a pupa, and on to an adult before emerging from the nest the following season. The lives ended for the female and male solitary bees we saw flying around this summer, but their brood is warm for the winter underground or in a cavity, and will emerge next summer.
The solitary bee lifecycle. Graphic: Lisa Mason

A native bee emerging from her underground nest. Photo: MaLisa Spring

Bumble Bees
Bumble bees live underground or in large cavities and have a one-year life cycle, like a solitary bee. During the summer, new queens and male bees hatched. They left their colonies to mate. As temperatures dropped, the male bees and worker bees from the current season’s colony died. The new, mated queens found a place to rest and hibernate over the winter, usually underground. When spring arrives, she will emerge, begin to forage, build a new nest, and lay eggs. The eggs will mostly be female worker bees at the beginning of the season. The queen will continue to lay eggs throughout the season. In late summer, new queens and male bumble bees will hatch and leave the colony and the cycle repeats itself. Queen bumble bees are capable of living alone, unlike honey bee queens.

A bumble bee, Bombus sp. Photo: Lisa Mason

For more information on bee lifecycles, you can read the Native Bee Watch Citizen Science Field Guide.

For more information on what happens to other insects in the winter, you can refer to this CO-Horts Blog post written by Jessica Wong.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Low-Cost Seedling Trees and Shrubs Available

Low-Cost Seedling Trees and Shrubs Available

Low-cost seedling trees and shrubs from the Colorado State Forest Service are now available for order, as part of the 2020 Trees for Conservation seedling tree program. The seedlings can be purchased locally from cooperating agencies across Colorado. Early orders are encouraged while a larger species selection is available.

The focus of the tree seedling program is to help landowners to meet conservation goals, restore forests impacted by wildfire and other disturbance, reduce soil loss, and enhance wildlife habitat. The program also allows landowners to plant vegetation in areas impacted by tree insects and diseases.
Forester Mike Till hopes the program will inspire landowners to take personal pride in the care of their properties through planting trees or shrubs. Planting seedlings can help increase the resilience of the forest to natural disasters by re-establishing lost vegetation, reducing soil erosion, improving air quality, and improving regional species diversity.

When considering which species to plant, landowners should consider elevation, aspect and soil type. Visit the Colorado State Forest Service website to find your local seedling sale and to obtain local assistance on tree species selection and ordering.

Friday, December 20, 2019

2019 Was A Mega Mast Year

A tree with a high amount of pine cones (Cherie Luke) 

Living in the mountains means we are surrounded by forest with it’s many trees -
mostly evergreens. As I hike and tend to my own yard I have noticed that there
are more pine cones on the trees and on the ground than I ever remember seeing
before. What I learned was that the summer of 2019 is considered a Mega Mast

A Mega Mast Year is a year in which trees and other plants produce
exceptionally high amounts of seed. ‘Mast’ are the fruits, seeds, and nuts of
trees and shrubs, which are eaten by wildlife.

According to a Google search, after trying .edu search on the subject, “The
summer of 2019 has been a Mega Mast Year, when trees across large areas of
forest synchronously flower en masse. The prolific fruits and seeds that follow
have triggered a good breeding season for many birds and other wildlife.”

The amazing thing about a Mega Mast year I just learned according to an article
by Ethan Trapper, a Chittenden County, VT forester, is “The key strategy is
coordination - it works if everyone does it at once. How tree species coordinate
mast years is still somewhat of a mystery, but this ‘synchrony’ is probably aided
by some combination of chemical signals passed through the air or through
underground root/fungal connections and weather cues.”

To read more about this fascinating event you can visit:

By Cherie Luke, Jefferson County Master Gardener

Friday, December 13, 2019

My Top Tips for Mountain Gardening

After nearly 20 years of gardening in the mountains, I am moving from zone 4 to zone 6.  While there is part of me that is excited about the expanded possibilities for my new garden (cactus, tomatoes, and vines, here we come!), I am also cognizant of some of the pleasures of gardening in the mountains, such as the bountiful season-long color, the zing and flash of the many hummingbirds, and the more plentiful rains (combined with cooler temps) that make it possible to use very little water to garden.

As my parting mountain garden blog post, I want to leave you with my top tips for gardening in the mountains:

  1.   Growing degree days are key. 

Each plant has a different temperature set point at which to germinate, grow, and set flowers or fruit.  Some plants, such as cool season plants, don’t need to accumulate as much heat to do their thing.  Warm season or late blooming plants need to accumulate a lot more heat – and mountain gardens can’t always provide enough heat.  This means that the USDA zone for a plant doesn’t tell the whole story. A plant may be hardy to zone 3, but if it needs a lot of heat in the summer, it won’t bloom satisfactorily.  

Native plums are a good example – they are hard to zone 3, but they will not flower and fruit unless they get enough heat. Because I adore them, I decided to try them at my house at 8,700’ on the south side, and while they are alive and leaf out every summer, they have never bloomed due to the lack of heat. I plan on digging them up and bringing them with me to my new garden, so they can achieve their full potential. Similarly, don’t buy late-summer or fall blooming plants, because they need more heat to bloom.  I’m looking at you, Echinacea and Russian Sage!  At my house, they
                  were just beginning to bloom when summer was over and snow was starting to fly.

2.       Maximize microclimates (or manufacture them).

Microclimates are hugely important in the mountains.  There can be up to one zone difference between sides of the house, or sides of the mountains.  This is why I like to say “my 8,700 ft. is not the same as your 8,700 ft.”  On a south-facing exposure, you may be able to grow an entirely different suite of plants than someone with a north or north-east exposure.  Similarly, the south facing side of your house is the place to put your more tender plants, and the north side should be for bone-hardy shade tolerant plants.  Another tip is to create your own microclimate by building a bed that slopes to the south, and adding large rocks (head size or bigger) to maximize heat.

3.       Keep expectations in check: take “altitude discounts”

  • Plants at elevation usually do not grow as high or tall as they do at lower elevations. So, if a shrub says it usually gets to be 8 feet tall, figure on 5-6 feet. 

  • Similarly, gardens are much slower to establish and fully fill in at higher elevations. It's not you, it’s the growing season. 

4.       It’s better to exclude critters than continuously try to fight them.

Make sure you figure out which critter is truly damaging your garden, because this will help you know how to deal with them:

Hardware cloth
If you are putting in a new bed, consider either digging out the area and installing hardware cloth (a ¼” wire mesh) at the bottom (and then replace the soil), or putting in a raised bed and tacking hardware cloth to the bottom. 

Pocket gophers are one of the most problematic critters out there, since they are prolific, live underground, and eat a plant’s roots.  Voles are also problematic, but they are frequently blamed for the damage caused by pocket gophers. Voles usually just eat the tops of herbaceous plants or girdle woody plants rather than eating roots. Voles can be excluded by loosely wrapping hardware cloth around the lower trunk of trees and shrubs. 

Rabbits can be excluded with a 2 ft. high fence, and deer with a 7.5-8 ft. fence.   
Moose are just a problem, and can get through most fences. It’s also hard to chase them away!

5.     Be Darwinian

  •  Another one of my favorite sayings is, “if you’re not killing plants, you’re not trying hard enough.”  I recommend experimenting with plants to see if they will work at your house – and even not to give up if they die over the first winter. If you really want a plant, try it again in a different microclimate.  However, if it doesn’t work again, maybe it’s time to give up on it and move on. 

  • Don’t be afraid to get rid of unsatisfactory performers. If a plant doesn’t bloom after a few years, is prone to disease, or the critters love it, let it go. There are many other plants out there. 

6.       Ask yourself if warm season vegetables are really worth the time and effort.

 Yes, you *can* grow tomatoes, but is the flavor and yield worth the months of tending seedlings, watering them, and protecting them from early frost, hail, and critters?  I grew tomatoes for many years,  and had the bragging rights of getting ripe tomatoes in the mountains, but decided in the end that it wasn’t worth it.  Your mileage, of course, may vary, especially in a warmer microclimate. 

Warm season vegetables that may prove more rewarding include some early summer squash, bush beans, and early cucumbers.  Corn and pumpkins are even harder than tomatoes, and I don’t recommend even experimenting (although I know that will cause some of you to go right out to prove me wrong, and more power to you) 

You will struggle less and produce more if you stick with cool season vegetables (see this fact sheet for examples:

7.       Floating row covers are your vegetable garden’s best friend.

A floating row cover is a spun-polyester fabric that lets light and water through, but provides a little frost protection, keeps insects out (and critters!), filters the high-intensity high elevation sunlight, increases humidity, and provides some hail protection.  What’s not to love?  

Floating row covers
Most of the cool season crops such as kale and lettuce don’t need to be pollinated, so my practice is to keep the row covers on all season, and just take them off to weed, check on the plants, and harvest.  I lay the fabric directly on the plants, and don’t use any supports. I have found that almost any kind of support causes the row cover to rip in the wind.  

The covers will last for many seasons if they don’t rip, which is good, because they are not super cheap. Don’t buy the very light insect-only row covers – they will not stand up to the wind.  They should be a bit opaque and provide a little frost protection.  I seldom see them for sale in garden centers, so you may need to buy them online. 

By Irene Shonle, Horticulture Associate, CSU Extension