Friday, October 13, 2017

Tips for Success with Wildflower Seed

By Kristina Hughes, Clear Creek County Master Gardener

How many of us have been awestruck by the display of wildflowers in the mountains and said to ourselves "I want to re-create that in my garden!" And how many of us have tried a wildflower seed garden which looked great the first season, but after a couple of years, sort of petered out.

I've seen a number of wildflower seed beds that were wonderful the first season and then after season 2 or 3, became increasingly disappointing. I personally have only seen a few wildflower seed beds that have consistently performed well year after year, and after quizzing some of the successful gardeners I will share what seem to be some secrets to success.

Common Problems

Sowing seeds too late: Most wildflower seeds need a cold period in order to germinate. Sometimes the seed manufacturer has put the seeds through an artificial cold period, but to have the best germination of your seed, sow seeds in late fall or winter.

One or two plants dominate: Frequently after a season or two, just a few plants dominate the wildflower bed. Each garden has a particular microclimate and set of conditions which will favor some plants over others. In a short period those few species will outcompete the species that are less suited to that site. The solution here is to re-seed each year and replenish the diversity of species.

Weeds take over: Weed seeds are present in natural soils and they will happily germinate along with your lovely wildflower seeds. It is extremely difficult to tell which tiny seedling is a weed and which is a wildflower. On their website Boulder-based seed company Beauty Beyond Belief recommends getting rid of as many weeds as possible, by pulling, tilling or spraying, before seeding with wildflowers. According to the website of Applewood Seed in Arvada, after your wildflowers have germinated, diligent weed control will be necessary. Remove weeds as soon as you can identify them. Sometimes you will have to wait until they flower to be sure.

And all of my sources recommended re-seeding every year with annual wildflowers for the most vivid display. Annuals only live for one season and have to reproduce (i.e. flower) as much as possible to ensure the survival of the species, so they produce a lot of flowers.

This isn't a comprehensive list of all of the problems that can occur, but these were the issues that seemed to apply to the garden beds I have directly observed.

Now, armed with these tips, I am going to tackle a couple of garden beds this fall and I hope others too can create vivid, satisfying displays next year and each year after.

Further really helpful information about this subject can be found in CSU Factsheet 7.233 Wildflowers in Colorado.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Spring Garden Planning

 by Ellyn Myller

Happy fall, the strawberries are still producing!  The work of harvesting the late fruits of the field and putting the flower gardens to bed is about to begin, so why am I thinking about spring planting??  Well when the snow has covered the ground and a few months have passed I may not remember what was growing where, what was successful and what I need to consider moving to a new location.  “Right plant, right place.”    
Tip 1: Record what happened this year.  Take some pictures to jog your memory, along with notes; these will come in handy when planning your garden beds and seed ordering time in February.

Garlic was harvested a few weeks back.  This new addition to my garden was very successful!!  Was it where I planted it, the condition of the soil, can I plant it there again?  Time for some research!  It’s not recommended to plant garlic in the same location year after year, but it will follow the carrots (light feeders) next year, especially since enriching the soil with compost for the garlic will take place.  

Tip 2: Rotate the crops.  Root - Fruit -Leaf- Legumes.   It’s surprising what specific vegetables are in each of these categories.   Next year, beans will replace beets, potatoes/onions into the compost enriched plot that lay fallow this year, the zucchini where the lettuce grew, and the “prize winning” cabbage I hope to grow to this year’s bean “field”.  

What about that soil?  Tip 3: Time to test the soil.  Most Extension Offices have soil testing kits available for pick up.  The cost is $35/soil sample, and you mail it in yourself.  Putting a dressing of compost on this fall or a cover crop will be done, but testing the soil now will further help to inform what amendments are needed come spring and what will grow best in each of the beds. 

I have been so inspired by other gardeners this summer; from those in the Master Gardener class to the Strings Kitchen/Garden Tour, Home Ranch, Elkstone and the Botanical Gardens, fresh ideas abound.  Tip 4: Try something new.  Start planning now; whether it’s adding complimentary flowering plants to your vegetable garden, a vegetable you’ve never grown, or growing a container of greens in your kitchen this winter - try something new!   You could go all out and apply to the CSU Master Gardener Program!   We partner to build a strong, knowledgeable and sustainable, happy, gardening community.  

Throughout the summer I have been laying in the foundation path and soil for an old-fashioned garden over the lawn in the front yard.  Last year and this year too, fall sales on perennials at the nurseries were scooped up and planted in empty beds to be transplanted in this dream garden that I can’t wait to dig into next spring!!

Ellyn Myller and her young family moved to Steamboat Springs from Minnesota in 1996.  She is a Class of 2017 Master Gardener.   She looks forward to using the many things she's learned in the Master Gardener program to create a more thoughtfully planted, beautiful, and productive garden. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Fighting Rust in my Backyard

By Vicky Barney, Steamboat Springs

The serviceberry bushes in my backyard look unhealthy.  The leaves are covered in brown spots and the berries look very dry.  Since I love the bushes because they feed the birds and the occasional bear, I decided to investigate the problem.
Rust on serviceberry leaves
Serviceberry and chokecherry bushes dominate the open space in my neighborhood.  In previous summers, a few brown spots were noticeable on some serviceberry leaves, but the bushes looked healthy overall.  This year, though, entire bushes look sickly and berry production has been poor.  Some research indicated that the bushes might have a fungus, if there was something more than brown spots on the leaves.  On closer inspection, I saw the brown spots had tendrils growing out of the back sides of the leaves, another indication of fungus. (See photo)  I took a branch from an infected bush to Barb, Christine, and Rozanne at the Master Gardener Office Hours last Thursday to confirm the diagnosis I suspected:  Rust.

Rust, or Gymnosperm Rust, is the name given to the Gymnosporangium fungus.  There are a number of species of fungi in the Rocky Mountain area, differentiated by the plants they attack. All require two host plants to complete their disease cycle.  One host is a juniper (including Rocky Mountain juniper, common juniper, and eastern redcedar) and the other a Rosaceous species (including apple, crabapple, hawthorn, Juneberry, and serviceberry).  My species of rust appears to be one with a serviceberry host.

As for the juniper host, the obvious candidate is a juniper tree hidden among the bushes on my property.  A slim tree about twelve feet tall, it is the only juniper tree in the area.  It appears healthy and has no noticeable fungus, but after studying the photos in an article about rusts (, I found small galls on a number of its branches.

So how do I manage rust? I have a few choices.
1.     Ignore it.  Rust rarely kills the host plants and is less aggressive in dry years.  However, it may make the plants more susceptible to other diseases and in wet years, the fruit will be adversely impacted. 
2.     Use chemicals on the serviceberry bushes to break the disease cycle.  Spray the affected serviceberry bushes with fungicide in the spring at seven- to 10-day intervals beginning at blossom time.  The process will require professional help.
3.     Break the disease cycle mechanically on the juniper tree.  Prune out the juniper galls (where gelatinous spore horns emerge) in late winter or early spring.  Given the size of the tree, this option, too, will require professional help.

To ensure the serviceberry bushes stay healthy and berry producing, I want to break the disease cycle.  I do not want to use chemicals as that will adversely affect the wildlife.  Neither do I want to spend the time and money pruning small juniper galls.  In hindsight, the best solution would have been to plant the juniper in another neighborhood, well away from any plants in the Rosaceous species. (A two mile separation is recommended.)  The tree would have grown beautifully in another location.

Thinking about location led to the realization that the juniper tree is not a vital part of the landscape and its removal will break the disease cycle immediately.  This tree has value, consuming carbon dioxide, producing oxygen, and benefitting wildlife, but the disease it is hosting is impacting  the health of dozens (maybe hundreds) of serviceberry bushes that also have value.
Choosing to cut down a tree is a surprisingly difficult decision.  Eliminating one host, though, and thus eliminating the fungus, will encourage a healthier landscape and a happier wildlife population.  I hope.

Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.