Friday, June 26, 2020

Celebrate the Pollinators

By Sharon Faircloth, Master Gardener

Shouldn’t every week be “Pollinator Week?” Awareness of the role of pollinators in our gardens, their global impact and their challenges have become much more widespread over the last ten years. Their symbiotic relationship with plants, not only determine their survival but are instrumental in ours! Pollinators are responsible for as much as one-third of our food and drink. More than 70% of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollination for producing fruits and seeds.

Pollinator week: June 22-28, 2020
The species of pollinators are primarily insects. They include many, many species of bees and beetles, butterflies and moths, wasps, beetles, flies and wasps, hummingbirds and even bats. While we think of the pollinators we see in daylight, many of the moths, beetles, some bees and bats are all nocturnal pollinators. Education is critical to conservation and protection of many of the endangered among these species. One of our most iconic butterfly species, the Monarch, is severely threatened due to habitat loss.

According to the Xerces Society, a group devoted to conservation and education, there are four steps everyone can take to improve the situation. 
  1. Grow pollinator-friendly flowers, shrubs and trees with overlapping bloom times throughout the growing season 
  2. Provide an environment for nesting sites
  3. Avoid pesticides
  4. Spread the word
In our alpine environments, we choose our plants carefully. Altitude, temperatures, microclimates, critters, and soil type all play a part in the plants we invest in. When you’re making those evaluations, consider plants that will enhance the habitat for pollinators.

One of the easiest things you can do is put more thought into when plants bloom, as well as their size and shape. Bees prefer variety and like flowers of similar structure, planted in layers starting with trees, then shrubs, then perennials, grasses and groundcovers. Monarchs, as another example, like nectar-rich flowers and milkweed – much of which has been lost to habitat decline and pesticide over use and or misuse. 

Buddleja Purple Haze Butterfly Bush
Some plant ideas for high altitude are Amelanchier alnifolia (Serviceberry), Callirhoe involucrate (Winecups), Linum lewisii (Blue Flax), Penstemons of many varieties, Achillea millefolium (Yarrow), Salvias, Nepetas (Catmint) Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly everlasting), Prunus virginiana (Chokecherry) and Campanula rotundifolia (Harebells). All are sun loving as are most pollinators. You can also add bright colored annuals to attract hummingbirds, although highly cultivated plants don’t yield much nectar.
Nepeta (Catmint) and Achillea millefolium (Yarrow)
Providing habitat for nesting is just as important as plants. Ground nesting bees like a little bare earth and cavity nesting bees will look for dead wood or hollow, pithy stems. Bee “hotels” are easy to make or purchase but need to be cleaned out or replaced after a couple of seasons.

A downside to pesticides is that they often don’t distinguish between unwanted and wanted and the unintended consequences disrupt the delicate balance in a healthy ecosystem. Selecting native plants will assist in reduction of pests as they are already acclimatized. Identify your pest and the underlying cause then manage it accordingly. 

Anaphalis margaritacea (Pearly Everlasting)

Perhaps the most impactful thing we can do is spread the word on the importance of supporting our pollinators. Talk to people who are afraid of bees and bats and encourage them to learn more about their habits. Bees are one of the most compelling species around! We may not have much control over corporate or large-scale farming or large-scale loss of habitat, but we do have control over our own gardens and influence over community areas. Let’s keep the pollinators in mind and make every week POLLINATOR WEEK!

For more information:

CSU Extension Fact Sheet # 5.615 Attracting Native Bees to Your Landscape

How to Create a Butterfly Garden Above 7500’ -

How to Create a Hummingbird Garden above 7500’ -

The Xerces Society -

Friday, June 19, 2020

Ground Covers

Ground Covers 
By Vicky Barney, Routt County Master Gardener

Ground covers – low growing plants that spread easily - are a great addition to Routt County gardens. When properly selected and planted, they provide visual interest (often in hard-to-grow areas), inhibit weeds, and reduce water needs by shading the underlying soil. Like all plants, they have specific needs in terms of sun, water, and soil, and thrive when grown in appropriate areas. 

Common periwinkle (Vinca minor)

In my yard (at 7,000 feet on a small lot in an established neighborhood), ground covers fill shady areas where little else grows. My experience with a variety of these plants has been mixed since I am working to mimic nature (think of a yard that is poorly irrigated and unstructured) and shade is taking over sunny areas as the trees continue to grow.

Ground covers I found too aggressive include the following:
  • Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans) – Planted without a barrier by a former homeowner, this little plant appears to be outcompeting the grass in spite of my efforts to stop it.
  • Creeping potentilla (Potentilla neumanniana) – This plant spread quickly and comingled with other plants in a weed-like fashion.
  • Snow on the mountain (Aegopodium podagraria) – A shade loving plant, it was not properly contained in my yard and wilted unattractively when it spread into sunnier areas.

These plants tolerate both sun and shade and are thriving in various places in my yard:
  • Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens) – A native growing along popular trails, this plant’s holly shaped leaves turn various shades of red. Early bright yellow flowers are followed by blue berries. It is growing beside and under shrubs.
  • Common periwinkle (Vinca minor) – Shiny green leaves appear as the snow melts, followed by small purple flowers. Occasional watering prevents wilting where it is growing in sunnier areas. 
  • Candytuft (Iberis sempervirens) – This early blooming plant grows unchecked in a neglected area, producing early white blooms and summer-long green and somewhat woody foliage.
  • Dragons Blood sedum (Sedum spurium “Dragon’s Blood”) – With green succulent leaves and a late blooming flower, this plant has spread beautifully between rocks and into bare spots.
  • Pussytoes (Antennaria dioica) – This native plant is mat forming and produces tiny pink flowers in spring. The foliage is a distinctive silver blue color.
Pussytoes (Antennaria dioica)

For more suggestions and details about these low maintenance plants, please see CSU Extension’s Fact Sheet 7.413: Ground Covers and Rock Garden Plants for Mountain Communities (

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

Friday, June 12, 2020

An Often Misjudged Plant

An Often Misjudged Plant, the Common Mullein
By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

My first experience with mullein (Verbascum thapsus) was in my yard in Michigan. My wife and I thought it was a beautiful weed growing in our garden. We were concerned and tried to eradicate it without much success, but eventually decided it would be an addition to our garden if we were able to have some control over it. While not able to kill it, we were able to control one certain area and enjoyed it over time.

We thought we were through with common mullein when we moved to Colorado, and of course we were wrong. It grows even stronger and with more vigor here.

Mullein rosette
Mullein is an easy-to-grow plant, often seen growing in fields and ditches. Because of its ease to grow and spread uncontrollably it is considered an invasive weed in many states, including Colorado

Common mullein (V. thapsus) does however, have a rich history as an herbal remedy, and has some scientific justification as a medicinal herb.

When it is grown as an herbal remedy, every part of the mullein plant is usable at different times during its life cycle. The thick, soft leaves are made into a tea to treat respiratory problems by loosening congestion and helping clear the lungs. The tiny hairs on the leaves can be irritating, and any teas should be filtered carefully to avoid this problem. A tincture (or an extract) of mullein alleviates this problem.

Flowering mullein
In addition, mullein flowers can provide a soothing and cleansing effect on the skin. Use mullein as a wash or balm for minor skin wounds or disorders by infusing flowers in olive oil and adding beeswax to make a balm. When looking for wild mullein, only harvest from straight, vigorous stalks that have not been treated with herbicide.

Although mullein is considered an invasive weed in Colorado, there are several varieties (around 300) that are grown as ornamentals in home landscapes that are not as invasive as the common mullein. They are a great addition to your garden landscaping. The flower stalks near my home at 8,000 feet grow up to 6 feet high, and the leaves grow as big as 2 feet across.

Mullein stalks growing in field
If you want to grow them, do so in an area where bees can enjoy the flowers, and birds can enjoy the seeds. Deer and elk eat the stalks and dead flowers around my house in the winter.

A note on the weedy, common mullein:

Common mullein is a biennial weed which reproduces by seed only. Plants first emerge as fuzzy rosettes in fall or spring, then bolt the second year, sending a single thick stem 2-6 feet tall. Yellow flowers turn brown as seeds mature in late summer. Seeds can be viable for 80 years. If you do not want to be over-run with mullein, remove the rosettes quickly.

Control options, according to Larimer County Weed Reference Guide, 5th edition:
  • Manual removal of plant by pulling or digging is effective if done prior to seed production. If removing mature plants with flowers, it is important to bag the plant so seed does not spread.
  • Herbicide must be applied prior to late flowering stage or seed may still be produced. Herbicide works best in rosette stage in spring or fall. A number of products provide excellent control: Milestone, Escort, and Telar. The addition of methylated seed oil to the spray mix is essential for herbicide to penetrate the hairy leaf surface.

Picture credits:

Friday, May 29, 2020

Give Rutabagas a Try!

Give Rutabagas a Try! 

By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin, CSU Extension 

The first time I ever saw rutabaga plants growing in a garden was at an historic ranch above 9,000’ near Telluride. I thought the blue-gray leaves were so beautiful and I’ve wanted to grow them ever since!

This year my doctor asked me to do an elimination diet to determine foods that cause inflammatory reactions in my body. Potatoes are on the list of inflammatory foods that I needed to eliminate so that is when I re-introduced rutabagas as a more regular part of my diet, as a potato substitute. My favorite ways to prepare them have been mashed with butter, fresh chives and dairy free yogurt, which cuts the sweetness a little. They are also good roasted and in beef stew. They are very nutritious!

Photo credit: Botanists in the Kitchen

What most of us in the states refer to as rutabagas, are also called “swedes” in Europe, “neeps” in Scotland, and “snaggers” or “narkies” by the northern Brits. It is also known as “Swedish turnip” or “yellow turnip.” The word rutabaga comes from the Swedish word “rotabagge” which means “round root.” They are more related to Siberian kale and canola than to turnips. 

It has long been believed that B. napus are a naturally occurring cross between B. rapa (turnips, etc.) and B. oleraceae (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and other cruciferous vegetables). Recent research, led by Missouri State University, discovered that the genetic history of these brassicas is much more complicated and that B. napus has one of the most complex genomes of all flowering plants. For an interesting read on the history and relationship between turnips and rutabagas go to

Rutabagas are an easy and nutritious food crop to grow in mountain communities with cool summers. They are a good storage crop and you can also eat the greens. Depending on the length of your growing season, direct seed them in your garden anytime between mid-May and the beginning of July, in deeply cultivated, well-drained, fertile soil. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged. 

Roots harvested in the fall rather than late summer should have better-tasting roots but be sure to harvest them all before a hard freeze. They are supposedly even better tasting after having been stored for a while. Someone told me the other day that their family would store their rutabagas, and bring them out for special dinners. 

American Purple Top, Photo credit: Ferry Morse Seed

Some rutabagas have purple shoulders, and some have green shoulders. Some have yellow flesh, and some have white flesh. This year is my first time to grow them and the varieties that I am trying are American Purple Top, Macomber and Nadmorska. 

American Purple Top is a standard rutabaga, with large dark-yellow, sweet roots that store well, 90 days to maturity. Macomber has white flesh with either green or purple shoulders and skin that is smooth and easily cleaned, 100 days to maturity. Nadmorska has yellow flesh and green shoulders, mild flavor and stores well, 85-100 days to maturity.
'Nadmorska' rutabagas. Photo courtesy of Siskyou Seeds.
Rutabagas have not been one of the most preferred vegetables, but I am 'rooting' for their comeback!

Friday, May 15, 2020

Plant Look-a-Likes: Poison Hemlock and Osha

Plant Look-a-Likes: Poison Hemlock and Osha
By Jennifer Cook, CSU Extension and USDA-NRCS

The past few years I have seen more and more Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) in Colorado. This plant, along with Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata), are poisonous to livestock and humans. Osha or Porter’s Lovage (Ligusticum porter) is an edible plant, and looks very similar to poison hemlock. Both species are members of the Apiaceae (Parsley) family, but Osha is edible while the Hemlock is very poisonous.

Let’s start with Osha, sometime called wild parsnip, Porter’s Lovage or wild celery (Ligusticum porter). This tall, broadly branching perennial plant has fern like leaves that smell like spicy celery. It grows up to 3 feet tall, and is found in meadows and aspen forests of upper montane and subalpine areas, 7,000 to 10,000 feet. 
Leaves of Osha (Ligusticum porter)
Osha roots, leaves, and seeds are edible and have antibacterial and antifungal properties. It is considered a sacred plant of Native and Hispanic Americans. Those adjusting to high altitudes can chew on a leaf or drink tea made of Osha leaves.

Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a non-native biennial that grows up to 8 feet tall. Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata) is a native that grows up to 4 feet tall. Both species have a foul, musty smell and are found in foothills to montane ecosystems (up to 9,000 feet). 

Poision hemlock (Conium maculatum)
All parts of the Hemlock plants are poisonous. Water hemlock is considered the most poisonous of plants (2-3 bites can kill humans). This plant is famous in the ancient Greek story of Socrates death, in 399 when he drank the deadly hemlock tea. Use gloves when removing these plants. 

Spotted water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) Stems may vary in color and pattern, from solid green or purple to green with purple spots or stripes
These three plants, Osha, Water Hemlock, and Poison Hemlock, look very similar, with white umbel flowers. What are some clues to distinguish them?
  • The elevation at which the plant is growing could be a helpful clue, since poison hemlock is found up to around 9,000 feet and Osha is found higher in subalpine ecosystems.
  • Smell the leaves. If it smells musty its poisonous, if it smells more aromatic it’s probably Osha. 
  • Look at the roots. Osha roots have a brown hairy fringe around the top of the dark root. 
  • Look at the stem. If it had purple spots or stripes, it is poisonous hemlock.

Be sure to identify these properly before grazing or eating.

Refer to the Poison Hemlock factsheet -

Water hemlock poisoning -

Osha -

Friday, May 1, 2020

What I Do In My Garden In Early Spring
By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

It is early April and I am about to start my flower seeds inside in my seed area. At the same time, I am thinking about what to do with my 24 feet by 4 feet raised gardens. I live at approximately 8,000 feet and my growing season can be rather short.

My experience has taught me that some plants must be bought in containers, while others can be grown by seed in my seed area. I prefer to buy tomatoes, squash and peppers to transplant. I prefer to direct seed beets and rutabagas.

I begin working in my two raised gardens by:
  • Raking and turning my gardens.
  • Adding new soil and compost.
  • Adding chicken fertilizer. I find this to be a great starter fertilizer.
  • After the last frost, I will turn my water and hose nozzle on. 
Raised garden bed

Because I live at 8,000 feet with a lot of wildlife, I need to protect my raised gardens. I do this by covering them with bird netting, which seems to work. I replace my bird netting at the start of a new garden year. I also cover my garden top with a piece of clear plastic roofing to protect it from hail.
Two raised garden beds

I plant my cucumber seeds and flower seeds indoors in early April. As the seed plants grow, they will be moved to larger pots. I will continue to grow the seed plants until late May when I will move them outside during the day and back indoors at night until early June, when I will plant them in the ground.

By the end of April, I plant my rutabagas, beets, carrots, radishes, and potatoes in the garden. 
Raised garden bed 

Reference CSU Garden notes

Friday, April 24, 2020

Gardening for Well-Being

By Ginger Baer, Gilpin County Master Gardener

Spring is the time of year when I am anxious to get outside and start digging in the dirt. My daffodils are popping up, the perennials are showing signs of life, and the sun is starting to warm the soil.

Now, probably more than ever, with Covid-19 in 2020 , I am getting particularly anxious to get outdoors and make my garden grow.

This year there are many initiatives to get people out in their gardens and start growing their own food. CSU Extension has started a Grow & Give Victory Garden program this year.
CSU Grow & Give program

Are you new to gardening? Not a problem. There are many learning tools available to you. The Grow & Give project has released many videos to help get your started. Are you an experienced gardener? Well then, you know how good it feels to get out in the garden.

There are many reasons why this program will be good for your wellbeing. When you grow a garden you are getting outdoors. Looking after your plants gives you purpose and the ability to nurture. It’s good to be connected to living things. Especially this year when we are all self isolating. Being in your garden helps you to relax and let go. It gets you away from the news and constant barrage of all that is wrong in the world right now. Being out in nature gives you exercise and helps your body to release the happiness hormones, serotonin and dopamine. Gardening also allows us to vent and release anger. Pull that weed! It also lets you gain some control at the same time.1
Girl in garden
You know what even feels better? Growing with a purpose. How many times have you found that you have produced more in your garden than what you can actually use? Think zucchini. So why not grow that little bit extra and donate it to your local food bank? This year especially, there is a huge amount of pressure being put on our food banks due to the loss of so many jobs. Grow and Give.

Woman in garden
Gardening is now becoming a normal prescription for people who are fighting anxiety and depression. The sense of purpose, the exercise, exposure to the sun are many of the reasons that this is a useful tool to oversome anxiety and depression. 2

Gardening programs have been developed by mental health therapists and are are tailored to individuals’ needs, working with them to set goals that will improve their health and wellbeing. This process is called social and therapeutic horticulture (STH). It can:
  • Reduce depression, anxiety and stress-related symptoms
  • Alleviate the symptoms of dementia, such as aggressive behavior
  • Increase the ability to concentrate and engage
  • Reduce reliance on medication, self-harming behavior 3
So, the bottom line is: Get outdoors, get gardening and feel terrific!

2. mental-health

Friday, April 17, 2020

New Basics of Mountain Gardening Webinar!

New Webinar on the Basics of Mountain Gardening!

Jennifer Cook, Gilpin County Extension Director, and Ginger Baer, seasoned Gilpin County Master Gardener, team up for an overview of the most successful vegetables and herbs to grow at high elevations. They also discuss garden strategies to make the most out of a short growing season. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

What Butterfly Is That?

What Butterfly Is That? By Cherie Luke, Jefferson County Master Gardener

Is one of your gardening goals this year to attract more butterflies? Mine is!

Butterfly gardening, and butterfly watching have become increasingly popular in the last few years, along with butterfly conservation. Many people think that butterflies are also good pollinators because they spend a lot of time on flowers but they are not. They do not have a body shape conducive to transferring pollen for most flowers. Still, I find watching them can be fascinating and beautiful as they fly around the garden from flower to flower.

Butterflies belong to the family of insects known as Lepidoptera. There are 20,000 species of butterflies worldwide and 575 in the continental United States.

To attract butterflies to your yard, first and most important is to have a life-sustaining environment. It is vital that insecticides are not used in or near your garden.

Butterflies need flowers for nectar (energy), and specific caterpillar host plants to lay their eggs. Host plants have evolved in order to feed the caterpillars that emerge from these eggs. After emergence, caterpillars eat the host plant leaves. Without host plants in your garden or yard, butterflies will go elsewhere when it's time to lay their eggs. Trees, shrubs, perennials, and grasses all can serve as important host plants.

Monarch butterfly on host plant Asclepias tuberosa (Butterfly weed) in my yard
It is also a good idea to have a water source for butterflies. A saucer with pebbles, on or low to the ground, makes a good place for them to have a drink. Just remember to keep the water fresh.

And last but not least, it's fun to identify what kinds of butterflies are attracted to your garden. There are many books available to help you identify which butterflies are visiting your garden. The new one I like is, Butterflies of the Colorado Front Range, A Photographic Guide to 100 Species, by Janet R. Chu and Stephen R. Jones.

For more information on attracting butterflies to your garden see:

Information on understanding pesticide impact on butterflies:

Friday, April 3, 2020

Gardening Opportunities

So Many Garden Opportunities While We Shelter in Place
By Sandy Hollingsworth, Gilpin County Master Gardener
Like everyone in the country, gardeners are asked to be at home during the COVID 19 outbreak. This time can be a challenge, or a time of opportunity. Here are some thoughts on how to use your home isolation as an opportunity to keep busy as a gardener. 
Start seeds!
Many seed packages suggest a 4 to 6-week indoor start time. You can start them in a warm location in a sealed plastic bag for the first few days or use a warming mat which fits a plastic flat just right. Using a warming mat will speed up and help with consistent seed germination.
To start seeds, sterilize your starter pots by dunking in warm water with a little bleach, set aside to air dry. Moisten sterile seed starting mix by putting it in a bucket or large bowl, adding warm water, and stirring until the soil is consistently moist. Put moistened soil into dry clean pots, add seeds, and cover to the recommended planting depth on the package. You can cover seeds with dry starting mix and mist to moisten. 
Place pots in larger trays and cover with a plastic lid, clear plastic wrap, or bag so that you can see when the seeds start sprouting. At this point, remove the cover.
Once the seeds sprout, they need to go into consistent warmth and light, preferably under a grow light set so you can raise the height of the light as the plants grow. A sunny west window can do the trick as long as you turn the pots if they start to lean toward the window, so that stems grow stronger and straighter. 
Keep plants evenly moist as they grow. Transfer to larger pots in a few weeks if needed.
Before planting outside, plants need to be hardened off by increasing sun and outside exposure over a week or so. Start with a couple of hours outside and gradually add exposure to a full day.
If you have space, consider starting extra vegetable seeds! Plants will be ready to donate to your local food bank, neighbors, or care centers when they are able to receive them this growing season. 
Seed starting CSUE fact sheet-
Sort and clean your pots and tools!
If you didn't get a chance in the Fall (we had a sudden mountain snowstorm in October), you could take inventory and decide if you still want all of the pots and tools that you have. Maybe some are past their prime or you want to give some away. You can wash pots in the shower or a work sink, sanitize with bleach water, let dry, and they'll be ready for Spring.
Tools can be sharpened, cleaned with steel wool to remove any rust, dipped in bleach water, then dried. You'll be able to grab them when spring and summer outdoor planting gets going.
Peruse catalogues!
They are always great for inspiration and dreaming. If you are not able to buy supplies, then you have time to get them on your wish list. It's a fun way to get some creative pot design and support ideas to try and replicate with materials you have at home. You can even brush up on your plant names and learn new ones. Surprise your friends next time you play Scrabble!
Order delivery or plan your shopping list!
If you have a gardening budget, most stores are offering pick-up or delivery during the Coronavirus reduced hours or closures. Some unique plants and tools are available on-line and not in local stores. Of course, supporting our local garden stores will be especially appreciated this year.
Plan your shopping list for when you are able to go out and shop. We all have our favorite local businesses we like to shop at for most of our garden supplies, pots, tools, plant starts, hanging containers and all the things that make us gardeners happy.
Plan your garden layout!
If you keep a garden journal, it's a great time to review it. What worked well? Did you miss any chances for succession planting? What can you do better or differently this year?
Draw a design and even color it by flower or plant color to help visualize what you want to do this summer. If you can't afford new plants, you can move things around in your own yard, or start asking your friends to trade or give you what you need to fill empty spaces in your plan.
Design ideas from Plant Talk Colorado -
Call your neighbors and talk gardening!
Not only is a call heartwarming for both people, the stories about our plans, successes, favorites, failures and dreams in our gardens are topics to stay connected. Many people are using Zoom, Facetime or Facebook to see others, meet and stay in touch.
Draw plant and flower theme cards and send them to friends or random people!
Who doesn't enjoy getting a note in the mail? If you aren't a painter or artist by nature, try making a design with cut out magazine and catalogue photos or stickers. These are equally cheerful. It can be a fun activity if you have children or other adults in your household who want to help create. 
Watch webinars and read books!
There is so much to learn. Books and videos are great ways to escape for a while. Some very funny parodies or instructional videos are available to watch or listen to just for a laugh or inspiration. You could share them with friends via email or social media. 
Try these Plant Talk Colorado resources: 
Hope this gives you some ideas and optimism about things that we gardeners can do now for the upcoming gardening season. Please be well during this period of social distancing and taking precautions to protect our vulnerable community members. 
If we need to social distance into summer, the yard and garden are great places to be!