Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dividing Perennials

by Pat Tormey
“Many home gardeners have found that the process of division is more traumatic to them, the gardener, than it is to the perennial.”

Ah, if only we could put in our flowering plants and forget them. Unfortunately, most perennials, those ‘backbones’ of the garden, may require occasional division in order to thrive.  As your plants grow over the years with new stems and new roots, they become over-crowded.  The plant may look larger, but each stem is actually smaller and weaker. 

If your perennial plants show any of the following, it may be time to rejuvenate them through division: 
1.          The flower quantity or flower size is reduced.
2.          The stems and branches are tangled.
3.          The center of the plant dies leaving a doughnut of new growth around the perimeter.
4.          The plant loses vigor, flopping over or requiring staking when it never did before, or the leaves are paler or yellow.
5.          The plant has out-grown the space you have given it.  This is especially likely if it grows in a particularly hospitable site.
6.          The plant is in the ‘wrong place’ in your garden.
7.          You want to share the bounty of your garden plants with friends and neighbors.  It is illegal to divide perennials that are patented.

Starting from the top and going clockwise: Daylilies, whole and divided.  A fibrous-root plant, cut in half.  Yarrow just pulled apart.  Sedum pulled and cut as needed. 

Many perennials in our area do best by being divided in the spring – right now! The general rule is that summer and fall blooming plants should be divided in the spring, and spring blooming plants in the fall. 

Tips for successful division of fleshy, fibrous, tuber, and rhizome perennials

1.          The day before, water the plant thoroughly. 
2.          Try to select a day that will be overcast and not too hot.  Then work either in the cool of morning when the plant is fully hydrated or late afternoon when the night will allow for better recovery.  Exposed roots dry out quickly.
3.          Dig the hole the divisions are going into, or prepare pots for them.
4.          Some plants benefit by having their top foliage cut back, allowing you to see where the natural divisions occur when making your cuts and reducing the loss of water through the leaves after transplant.
5.          If the plant is large, use a spading fork to dig all the way around it, well away from the base to minimize the loss of roots.  A fork does less damage to the roots than a shovel or spade.  Then lift the entire clump out of the ground.  You may need to remove some of the dirt in order to see the root structure.
6.          If the whole plant doesn’t require division and you only want few new plants, you can dig or cut out clumps around the edges.  The parent plant will recover quickly and appear unchanged.
7.          Remove all weeds and grasses before you replant!  Inspect the plant for unhealthy parts, usually an old woody center or rotten roots.  Eliminate them. 
8.          For fibrous rooted plants, use a spade (or two), an old bread knife, or your fingers to separate the clump into plants the size you want.  Very old and well established perennials, like day lilies or astilbe may require more aggressive handling.  I have heard of people using saws!
9.          Keep the divisions moist and shaded.  Save the youngest pieces for replanting, usually the ones at the edge of the plant.  Each piece should have roots and a minimum of 2 buds / piece of the crown.  Discard the rest.  The larger the pieces, the sooner the plant will bloom again. 
10.       Plant each division in a hole twice its size.  Fill in with good quality soil mixed with organic matter, keeping the plant at its original depth.  Don’t feed with nitrogen until the following year ­- nitrogen encourages top growth and the divisions need to focus on their roots.
11.       Water well.  If the weather is especially hot and sunny, you may need to add a sunshade for a few days.

There are a number of other techniques for propagating plants, shrubs and trees: stem, leaf or root cutting, layering, grafting, budding, scaling, scooping, scoring, offsets, runners, etc.  They are beyond the scope of this article; but what fun they might be!

Pat Tormey retired and moved to Steamboat in 2014 where she quickly learned that raising plants in this environment was very different than the decades spent raising vegetables in the Midwest.  She took the Master Gardener class (2015) and has enjoyed learning more about gardening every year since.  Currently, Pat is helping out with the We Dig It! project, raising vegetables for Lift-Up at the Community Garden, and volunteering at a local farm-to-table project.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Foothills Drought Conditions, Fire Mitigation and Plant Materials

By Jan Boone

Picture courtesy of Colorado State Forest Service

We all have watched with dread the fires that have ravaged both Northern and Southern California in the past months.  As someone with family members and friends impacted by several of these fires in my home state, I can’t help but think it’s time to re-examine the more serious aspects of safety in foothills living and our gardens, for the off chance our turn will be next.

According to the Colorado Climate Center, as of January 2018, 99% of our state’s population is being impacted by some degree of drought.  The Foothills and surrounding Metro area is still classified as Moderate, but as we all know weather patterns can impact us very quickly. This includes the scary fact our snowpack is currently between 50-70% of average.  Yes, our typical snowiest months are March and April, so as I write, we are halfway through March and we’ve only received half our normal snowfall.   Follow their website at (

Since our surrounding environment is heavily forested with peaks and canyons and our climate is arid, we’re at a high risk for wildland fire destruction  The potential of a wildland fire impacts most every aspect of our daily living.  Here’s a challenge: when was the last time you considered fire mitigation around your house and property??  Consider places where wildlands meet more urban-based building structures and how they can be defended against fire.

The Colorado State Forest Service ( has great guidelines on recognizing the Home Ignition Zones that starts with two basic principles: Structure Ignitability (your house and surrounding facilities) and Defensible space (the area around your home).  While it’s true your homeowner’s insurance may help point out potential hazards they see on and around your immediate house structure, there are still greenhouses, storage sheds, barns, etc. to also consider. Have you thought of little things that may prove impactful? Do you allow pine needles to collect under any raised wooden decks, or against your siding? What about your gutters?  Do you store items in potentially flammable containers up against the house?  What about the woodpecker holes in siding you say you’ll get to later or the big dead pine bough that overhangs the roof? These all may impact your dwelling in case of a wildland fire. 

Let’s also focus on the garden and space around your home. Do you worry about the dried cheat grass in a space next door? How about the small attractive pine you planted next to your house a few years ago?  The dried needles it may drop are trouble!! All of these circumstances are easy targets with potentially sad outcomes, especially in wind driven ground fires where sparks can ignite your plantings and house.  Do you watch for ladder fuels (i.e. dead pine boughs that start on shrubs, especially firs, at ground level and may rise 2-3 ft to current growth in a young trees.  These fuels enable sparks to quickly move vertically, easily turning a ground or grass fire into a crown fire at treetop level . 

Now turn your attention specifically to garden plants and landscaping.   (CSU fact sheet #6.305  on Firewise Plant Materials: We are often asked during the summer months “What plants won’t attract deer or elk”??  We can turn that question around for the purpose of this blog article and ask “What plants are more fire resistant”??  If we think of your home’s exterior space in Zones, there are 3 Defensible Space Zones: Zone 1 is 0-15 feet from your structure, Zone 2 is 30-100 feet from your structure. And Zone 3 100 feet and beyond.  Here’s some added information to help.

Picture courtesy of Colorado State Forest Service
If you you’re collecting water in Zone 1, as in a rain barrel (CSU Fact Sheet # 6.707: or maybe a water feature with a pool, you may want to consider keeping a good hose nearby, especially to help spray water on the base of the house or to water plants near the house.  A good friend in Napa did this using water from a swimming pool to help save a wood fence!  However, if you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately without taking time to soak anything.   Look for low growing ground covers and some wildflowers for this specific zone.

Zone 2 and 3 plantings may be subject to loss or damage from a wildland fire despite best efforts, but you can help protect the Zone 2 garden occupants by following these guidelines found in above referenced Fact Sheet on Firewise Plants.  Look for plants with these specific characteristics: open branches and sparse vegetation, low sap or resin contents and good moisture content. While eliminating dead or dying branches or dried diseased leaves is work, the payback is a healthier garden as well as less available volatile materials in case of fire.  Zone 3 is apt to be native growth, including tall pines.  This zone may be a priority of first responders in case of a wildland fire.  Consider and ask about plants or trees that may regenerate themselves after a fire.

Here are some good low water, native wildflowers and plants that may be suitable while also creating a reduced water need in a fire wise garden. These are also beneficial to pollinators.  A fact sheet that can help with this is Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado:  Also, low-water native plants for pollinators:  In early growing season at our altitude, look for Nodding onion, Firecracker or Blue Mist Penstemon  and Pasque flower to name a few. Mid to late season you can also include Milkweed, Harebells, Blanket flower (Gaillardia), Beebalm, Black-eyed Susan, native Yarrow, Aster, Oriental Poppy, even Hens and Chicks. Specific shrubs varieties  may also include Rabbitbrush, Chokecherry, Golden Currant and Woods Rose, Cotoneaster, Serviceberry, Aspen. some maples and Mountain Ash.

Native Yarrow

The Evergreen Volunteer Fire Department is hoping to hire a wildland fire educator in the coming months so watch for further information we can share should this hiring occur.  In the meantime, prepare as best you can with some of the ideas mentioned in this article.  Here’s wishing everyone a peaceful and safe season in our gardens and surrounding communities these coming months.  To those who may be called upon to help protect us in case of emergencies, we honor your commitment and thank you.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Keeping a Garden Journal

by Adele Carlson
     Recently I was sitting here looking out at the snow falling with seed catalogs laid out all over my desk, thinking about planning this year’s garden.  What should I grow? When should I plant? What goes in the greenhouse and what goes outside?  What worked last year?  What didn’t?  Should I try something new this year?  Fortunately, my old garden journals will help me with these tough questions.
     Over the years working in the gardens at The Home Ranch I realized that here in Routt County we really live in a unique area and our growing season doesn’t always fall in the guidelines of published planting guides; our best information comes from our own experiences.  Creating your own journal or planting guide will be of great value over your years of gardening in Routt County.
     There are many different types of journals to choose from but I recommend starting with either a simple planning type calendar that lists the months and dates, but does not include the days, or use a completely blank journal and create your own gardening calendar.   Both will allow you to make entries under a date in subsequent years, color coding each year with a different color ink.  After a few years, you will have made your own planting guide. 
     What to include in your journal? The list is endless, and the more you include the better your personal guide will be down the road.  Here are a few ideas to start:
·   Latest frost date and earliest frost date…and any that may occur in between
·    First spring sightings – when the first crocus pops up, when the garlic you planted last fall emerges, when the tarragon comes back (it is always so late I am sure it died over the winter)
·   When you start seeds inside and then transplant them out,  noting how those seedlings did inside and how they made the transition to outside
·   When you direct seed crops outside
·    How much rain falls and when
·    How you prepare your soil, what soil amendments you use and the date(s) you amend it
·   What you plant each year
·    Crop successes….and failures, noting ideas for improvement in the future
·    Crop rotation, throughout the season and from year to year
·    Companion planting trials
·    Diagrams and photos:  your garden plan, where you use crop rotation, bugs you encounter and the damage they do, etc.
·   What plants you like and don’t like and why
·    Information on plants you purchase so you can get them again if they are a success
     OK, time to start your journal!  It can be as simple as stashing your collection of garden notes written on scraps of paper in a notebook.  Or it can be a calendar I’ve just described.   Or you can create a work of art and include little botanical illustrations along the edges.  In the end, you will know what it takes to garden successfully in Routt County!  Now I am off to start a new journal of my own.
Adele Carlson has been a Master Gardener since 2007.  She lives, gardens and ranches in North Routt.  She originally took the Master Gardener class to learn more about weeds and rangeland management, but since has focused on vegetables and flowers.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Preparation for 2018 Planting

by Ed Powers
I live in the Evergreen/Conifer area at about 7600 ft.  I have lived on several areas of the Midwest and West and gardened in all of them. But I find this area to be the most challenging and fulfilling.  I have learned that you should buy plants that grow fast and bloom or fruit in a short period of time.  Also, do not put them out too early and make sure they are hardened off when planting them.  I have always had to do this but it is more critical at our elevation.  Also, it is not a good idea to plant before June 1 unless you are planting cool season crops, such as root crops or some types of lettuce, cabbages, or spinach.

So, after 6 years of gardening here, reading and experimental planting this what I have come up with:
·        ·    I clean my 2 raised gardens in late fall or very early spring.
·        - I bring in some tomato plants when the season is over with and grow them inside.
·    I plant beet, rutabaga, turnips and carrots in mid-March.
·    I plant the other seeds I want to put in my gardens indoors in a well-lit area of my basement.
·    I start my smallest flower and vegetable seeds in peat pots with starting soil and my larger seeds in starting sponge inserts.

·    I cover them for at first and when they have sprouted and have the first set of leaves I uncover them.
·    I transplant large plants in bigger peat pots as needed.
·    In early May I will clean my wife’s deck railing pots and ready them for flowers.
·    In mid-May I start putting my plants out to harden the off.  I put them out in dappled shade at first so they don’t get too much sun, and gradually give them more sun. At first, I may bring them inside in the evening or I may choose just to cover them.
·    In late May or early June, I plant my gardens.
·    At this time, I also trim back the tomatoes I overwintered in the house and replant them.
I then water, fertilize and tend them for the summer-hope for a good crop and pretty flowers. 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Landscape Planning Concepts

Kurt M. Jones
Chaffee County Extension Director

When water supplies become stretched, many gardeners look upon their large lawns and wonder about converting it to low moisture plantings.   While lawns have their purpose, making them functional (having only what you need) instead of covering large areas of your lot makes good sense.  So, where do you begin?
Related image
Bubble Diagram Example
            First, explore your goals for your landscape.  Do you need an area for your pets or children?  Are there some places in your landscape that are difficult to maintain or keep watered?  Will you need to convert a portion of your existing lawn sprinklers to convert to a perennial bed?
            One trick that landscape designers start with when making a plan is to draw out the existing lot on paper, noting the location of difficult-to-move items like sidewalks, driveways, structures, and established trees.  From there, they draw a “bubble diagram” to note differing effects they wish to make, plant watering requirements, and other desired features such as patios or lawn areas.
            In moving from the bubble diagram to an actual plan, consider other effects that you may wish to accomplish.  If the focal point of your home is the front entrance, then consider plants that enhance that feature instead of blocking the view.  Larger plants like trees can be useful to help “frame” the house features.  When choosing plants for your landscape, be sure to consider not only the size of the juvenile plants, but also mature sizes as well.
One concept that we recommend is the right plant in the right place.  Keep in mind wind exposures, solar heating, and winter conditions when choosing plants.
            In choosing plants, there are several excellent resources available to you.  CSU Extension has many publications available, along with some additional web resources such as and which may be helpful.  The SE Colorado Water Conservation District has an extensive demonstration and research garden at their Pueblo location.  Their website, has many pictures of plants they have on their location, growing characteristics, and other helpful information about maintenance and other items. 
Mid-summer perennial garden
Finally, check with local nurseries to see what they have available and get their advice.  Our local nurseries have plants adapted to our environment and knowledgeable people on staff.  Try to approach them on less-hectic times/days so they have time to assist you!
Getting the right plants is an important step.  Soil preparation, correctly planting transplants, and watering are also very important and often overlooked or not adequately accomplished.  Simply adding 3 cubic yards of compost to every 1000 square feet of bed and incorporating that into the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches will lower your watering requirements, fertilizer requirements, and increase the plant vigor over no soil preparation.  Incorporating organic matter later is much more difficult.
For more information about landscape options, call your Extension office or visit us online at

Monday, April 16, 2018

Soil Temperature

by Sandy Hollingsworth 
In talking with other Master Gardeners, I’ve found some faithfully rely on soil temperature when planting while others take their chances. I know I’ve been guilty of impatience planting root vegetable seeds, then later tomato and pepper seedlings, too early, then watching them sit doing nothing and never catching up to the ones I waited to plant at a happier, warmer time. The warm sun can make the top of the soil feel warm enough, but down several inches it’s another story. This year I decided to invest in a thermometer to poke into my containers, prepped soil and raised beds to check before planting. I found a 5-inch-long metal stem pocket thermometer, with a probe sheath for storage. It happens to be in centigrade but that is okay as it is easy enough to figure out the conversion to Fahrenheit.

When reading up on recommended planting temperatures I found this summary: “Soil temperature is the best indicator of when to plant each type of vegetable, no matter what climate zone you live in”, said Annie Chozinski, Oregon State University vegetable researcher. “Crops that germinate in the coolest soils (down to 40 degrees F) include arugula, fava beans, kale, lettuce, pak choi, parsnips, peas, radicchio, radishes and spinach seed. When the soil temperature reaches above 50 degrees, Chinese cabbage, leeks, onions, Swiss chard, and turnips can join them in the garden.  At 60 degrees you can sow warm-season vegetables such as beans, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and cauliflower.”

If you are not at higher altitudes with a short growing season like 9300’ at the Gilpin County CSU Extension community gardens, or if you have a warm greenhouse, you’ll want to wait until the soil warms to 70 - 80 degrees to plant warm-season vegetables, or start them inside well in advance. These include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, melons, tomatillos, cucumbers, corn and squash. Some mountain residents with pockets of warmer micro-climates may be able to grow these warmer season vegetables, but most will be better off sticking to cool season vegetables. Even if you do have a warm micro-climate, do be aware that the harvest will be smaller than lower and warmer elevations.

Our beloved mountain grown potatoes need at least 40 degrees to sprout and be productive. In our shorter, higher altitude growing season cool weather vegetables with shorter growing times tend to be most successful.

Although it is rarely an issue in the mountains except in greenhouses, know that some plants have an upper soil temperature that they will tolerate, such as 80 degrees for lettuce and spinach, and 95 degrees for most anything including cucumbers and tomatoes. Of course, you can plant more vegetables when the soil returns to its preferred temperature if your growing season gives you enough time to harvest it, or you use row covers or other season extension techniques to help regulate the soil temperature.

Here is a sampling of Fahrenheit vs Centigrade conversion if needed:
45 degrees F = 7.2 degrees C
50 degrees F = 10 degrees C
60 degrees F = 15.5 degrees C
70 degrees F = 21 degrees C
80 degrees F = 26.6 degrees C
90 degrees F = 32.2 degrees C

Colorado State University Fact Sheets 7.244 Colorado Mountain Gardening, 7.235 Choosing a Soil Amendment, and 7.214 Mulches for Home Grounds provide more information about controlling soil temperature.  They also explain soil amendments and that reducing surface evaporation and conserving soil moisture factor into soil temperature. Raised beds warm faster plus using south facing areas will usually be beneficial to reduce temperature fluctuations if combined with enough protection from wind. 7.248 Vegetable Gardening in the Mountains includes more scientific explanations about plant base temperature “T-base” and GDU Growing Degree Units, plus tips on seed and site selection.

The thermometer will be a welcome addition to your garden tools and fun to poke around with while you wait patiently for the right time to plant.  Happy planting!

Monday, April 9, 2018


by Sharon Faircloth

Brunnera macrophylla w/ Matteuccia struthiopteris and  Gallium odoratum and some pushy mint
Brunnera macrophylla w/ Matteuccia struthiopteris and
 Gallium odoratum and some pushy mint

A lovely little perennial that will brighten up any area with part-sun to shade is Brunnera macrophylla.  It is a member of the Boraginaceae family also known by common names of Siberian Bugloss, Heartleaf Brunnera or False Forget-Me-Not.  My preference is Siberian Forget-Me-Not because its delicate little flowers are such a contrast to the ruggedness of our mountain terrain.  It will easily grow in Zones 3-8. 

Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost
Brunnera macrophylla Jack Frost

The leaves are heart-shaped and come in different varieties and shades of green ranging from yellowish to very dark green.  The Jack Frost cultivar has variegated, silvery leaves.  The Diane’s Gold variety is yellow-green.  The heart-shaped leaves range from a petite size to very large elephant ear like size.  The delicate periwinkle flowers shoot up on airy little branches providing visual interest in early summer.  It’s attractive to bees and butterflies and not so much to deer, elk and rabbits! 

Brunnera, Osterich Fern and Astilbe
Brunnera, Osterich Fern and Astilbe

Brunnera provides an interesting option for ground cover in shadier areas, especially in conjunction with other groundcovers.  It prefers moist, well-drained soil but tolerates dryness once established.  Mulch will help keep the moisture in and protect from winter harshness.  While planting instructions suggest best results come with rich soil (what doesn’t??), I found the plants to be quite hardy once established.  They will grow in small mounds, up to about 12 inches tall and 12-24 inches across.  Plants will self-seed and you can also save seeds to plant in other areas or divide in the spring. 

There are several complementary spreaders (See Fact Sheet 7.413 for mountain specific ground covers at including Lamium maculatum (Dead Nettle) which has a variegated leaf that has a stand alone interest, even when not in bloom. For people with slightly warmer microclimates,  Galium odoratum (Sweet woodruff) which is also a good spreader with different texture and fragrant little white flowers or Ajuga reptans  (Bugleweed) which has bronze, mat-forming leaves.  This combination provides contrast in color, bloom, height, while sharing the same requirements of soil and light. 

Other ideas for companion plants include Dicentra spectabilus (Bleeding heart) with bright pink or reddish flowers; Astilbe arendsii or A. japonica which also have bright pink, red, white or more subtle colorations with long lasting plume-like flowers; and Matteuccia struthiopteris (Ostrich fern) which is easy to grow and gives, yet another, texture and height that will complement the Brunnera.

Consider incorporating the subtle little Brunnera in your shady landscape and come late spring or early summer, and I think you will be so happy you did!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Plants can kill dogs

By Ginger Baer

As the warmer weather is arriving many of our native plants will be popping up.  Living in the mountains and hiking amongst these beauties is a favorite pastime for many.  Taking along our dogs is also not all that unusual.  But please beware, there is danger out there for our furry friends. 

I have heard many people say that our dogs will not eat something if it is not good for them.  This is just not true. I have seen many cases of dogs becoming ill after eating something that they should not. It can be heartbreaking to see our pets suffering, not to mention watching the angst in their owners.

I am writing this article in an effort to help pet owners and hikers in our beautiful Rocky Mountains become more aware of what they need to look for.  This list is not all inclusive, but is gives you a slight idea of what to watch out for.

For further information I would refer you to:  ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Phone Number: (888) 426-4435 or their website:

Baneberry: Actea Rubra
A bushy plant with large, highly divided leaves and a short, thick, rounded cluster of small white flowers in leaf axils or at stem ends. The fruit is an attractive, but poisonous, red berry.

Clinical Signs if eaten by a dog:  Vomiting, diarrhea, depression, seizures.

Buttercup: Ranunculus spp 
Additional Common Names: Butter Cress, Figwort

Clinical Signs if eaten by a dog: Vomiting, diarrhea, depression, anorexia, hypersalivation, oral ulcers and wobbly gait.

Monkshood: Aconitum columbianum
Aconitum, commonly known as aconite, monkshood, wolf's bane, leopard's bane, mousebane, women's bane, devil's helmet, queen of poisons, or blue rocket, is a genus of over 250 species of flowering plants belonging to the family Ranunculaceae.

Clinical signs if eaten by a dog: Weakness. Heart arrhythmias, Paralysis, Tremors, Seizures

Milkweed: Asclepias speciosa
Asclepias species. Some species contain cardiotoxins (steroidal glycosidic cardenolides) and other species contain neurotoxins. Maybe good for our butterflies, but not so much for our dogs.

Clinical Signs if eaten by a dog: Vomiting, profound depression, weakness, anorexia, and diarrhea are common; may be followed by seizures, difficulty breathing, rapid, weak pulse, dilated pupils, kidney or liver failure, coma, respiratory paralysis and death

Poison hemlock: Conium maculatum
Hemlock or poison hemlock, is a highly poisonous biennial herbaceous flowering plant in the carrot family Apiaceae, native to Europe and North Africa; it is a noxious weed in Colorado.

Clinical Signs if eaten by a dog: Diarrhea, seizures, tremors, extreme stomach pain, dilated pupils, fever, bloat, respiratory depression, and death

Water Hemlock: Cicuta maculate
Cicuta maculata is a species of flowering plant in the carrot family, Apiaceae, known by several common names, including spotted water hemlock, spotted parsley, spotted cowbane, and the suicide root by the Iroquois.

Clinical Signs if eaten by a dog: Diarrhea, seizures, tremors, extreme stomach pain, dilated pupils, fever, bloat, respiratory depression, and death.

Yarrow: Achillea millefolium

Additional Common Names: Milfoil
Clinical Signs if eaten by a dog: Increased urination, vomiting, diarrhea, dermatitis.

Please know before you go and watch out for your faithful companions.