Friday, January 18, 2019

Winter Watering for Trees and Shrubs in the Mountains

By Abi Saeed
Coming out of a challenging 2018 filled with record high temperatures and severe to extreme drought designations through most of Colorado, we are all thinking about our yards, gardens, trees and shrubs for 2019. Although many areas have received some precipitation over the past couple of months, recovering from a drought takes time, and we need to work towards tending to our drought-stressed landscapes in order to set ourselves up for a successful 2019 season.
Supplemental watering in the winter is a reality for Coloradans, especially in the Mountains, where the air is drier. Most trees have shallow roots, found in the first 18 inches of the soil. These sub-surface roots are vulnerable to dry conditions, and require supplemental watering in particularly hot and dry seasons. A drought-affected landscape has depleted its subsurface soil moisture content, requiring extra care in the fall to restore soil moisture for plants. Fall and winter care is critical in restoring that soil moisture that plants will rely on, going into the following growing season.

Supplemental watering in the fall and winter are an important aspect of caring for a Colorado landscape in drought-affected areas. A combination of dry conditions, higher elevation, wind, increased sun intensity, and limited moisture make winter watering a critical component of Colorado gardening. 
CSU Extension recommends watering within the drip-line (the soil area from the trunk to the outer edges of the branches, similar to the ‘footprint’ of a tree or shrub) to a depth of around 12 inches once or twice a month from October through March. You can use several different methods to water, including soaker hoses, soil needles, and spray nozzles/wands.  Younger trees and new plantings require more watering than established landscape trees and shrubs. 
Watering should take place in dry winters with no snow cover. It is important to only water your landscape plants when daytime temperatures are above 40 F, and if the ground is not frozen. Restrict watering to mid-morning, allowing time for the water to percolate to the roots, before the possibility of an overnight freeze. In addition, apply 2-4 Inches of mulch (leaving 6 inches from the base of the trunk), as mulching provides insulation and helps to conserve moisture in the soil.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Snow, snow, snow - Moisture has finally arrived

By Susan Carter

Is it too late for some plants and trees?  Here in Western Colorado we had one of the driest and hottest years on record.  Drought started in the Fall of 2017 and continued for a whole year.  Parts of Mesa County only received 7” of precipitation, with counties to the south receiving even less.  In the winter of 2017/2018, for the home landscape, winter watering was a must for evergreens and newly planted trees.  Even old, mature trees had issues. 

Almost immediately in the spring, I had several peach orchards call me.  One person thought he might have a new insect:  there would be an area of leaves on the branches and twigs, and then a span of a foot or two with no leaves at all, then another cluster of leaves.  It turned out to be a combination of issues, including lack of acclimation in fall followed by a dry winter.  Orchards with rockier soils had more issues.  We often don’t think much about fall temperatures but they help to transition our trees and smaller plants into dormancy.

Peach Blossoms- CSU Extension TRA
Just like us, trees do not like rapidly changing temperatures.  They prefer to have a gradual temperature change, but how often does that happen in Colorado?  Many of the peach buds had abscised, basically just dropping off the stem.  Luckily, there was enough left to still have a good peach crop.

For the home gardener, it is easier to water a few plants in winter.  But for people that live in wooded areas, or with large acreages, this is nearly impossible.  So, calls started coming into the office mid-summer and even up through mid-winter.  The Glade Park Area and the Unaweep Canyon area, and other areas south, started seeing massive amounts of Pinon pines dying, in some cases those located on rocky ledges went first followed by surrounding trees.  We first saw twig beetles, then the Ips beetles.  Even a few trees reported to be 300-400 years old did not make it.   Besides the drought, the valley had a record number of days over 90, and I am sure at higher elevations surrounding the valley one could see average temperatures even higher.

Pinon Pine with pitch tubes from Ips
This spring will be the continuation of the drought story.  I learned in a drought meeting early this week that most of our domestic water providers in our area have been able to fill their reservoirs to 100%.  But continued snow and moisture throughout 2019 will tell if levels that are needed are maintained thru the summer.  Some reservoirs in 2018 approached the 50% mark.  The good news is the moisture we are getting this year will help plants thru the winter, and the negative temperatures we had hopefully lasted long enough to impact insect populations.  Just as we get a cold when we are stressed, trees attract insects.  So, if the numbers of insects are decreased and the trees are healthier, the infestations should decrease. 

The bad news is that (for trees and plants) it may take up to 5 years or more to show the final outcome of an event such as drought or quick weather changes.  Plants use up a lot of energy getting thru these stressful time.  The overall health before the event, and conditions after the event, will be the determining factor of the long-term survivability of the trees.  In nature, there always seems to be an ebb and flow of populations, whether it be rabbits and foxes, or young pine trees and Ips beetles.

Susan Carter is the CSU Extension Tri River Area Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent

Monday, January 7, 2019

Another Dry Winter

By Sharon Faircloth, Master Gardener
Typical Colorado winter landscape
We’re in the throws of another record, dry, winter.  The dry wind that brings those unseasonably warm days in the winter, cause substantial damage.  The seed catalogs are coming in the mail so spring MUST be just around the corner.  Hopefully, we’ll get feet of that lovely moisture-laden snow in March and April to help mitigate the stress created from so little precipitation (without the damage that can come along with that wet heavy snow)!

In the meantime, if you have no snow cover but do have water rights, consider watering trees, shrubs and susceptible plants.  Trees that are particularly susceptible are spruce, alders, mountain yews, maples, mountain ashes and conifers.  Watering can be done when temperatures can get to about 40 degrees by mid-day.  Ideally, you’d like to be able to get the water down about twelve inches and to give the enough time to soak in before temperatures drop.  Also, try to water to the drip line and beyond if possible.  If you’re on a well and watering outside is prohibited, you may want to contact a local arborist for a price to provide water, or look into getting a cistern.   Our trees are precious and water will protect that investment.

Colorado native Ponderosa Pine
Some ways to mitigate dryness around all plantings is to use mulch.  Mulch can reduce moisture loss as much as 25-50%.  It also protects soil against temperature extremes and erosion.  Try applying 2-4 inches of heavier weight mulch away from the base out the drip line. 

Colorado native plants are an excellent choice for your landscape.  Natives are already acclimated to our environment, soil and local conditions.  They are unique and attract a wide variety of wildlife including bees, birds and butterflies.  They are also more pest and disease resistant than non-natives when planted in their optimum environment.  Natives typically require little maintenance and resources, once established. There is usually little need for fertilizing or soil amendment; just keep weeds away and then let the plants go to seed in the fall.  Clean out the dead stuff in the spring and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.  As always, you have to choose the right plant for the right place for the best chance for success.

There are a number of ways to incorporate natives into your landscape.  You won’t find natives at your local box store but there are local garden centers that source them and check out the Colorado Native Plant Society website for plant sales.   You can also start from seed.

Old dried native perennials
Combining plants and seed will give you a bigger impact faster.  It’s very important to use the scientific names when choosing, as there are a number of similar varieties that are not native.  Also, if you’ve ever studied the Noxious Weed website, you may have seen plants that you like and wonder why they are being demonized.   One of the biggest problems with the “noxious weeds” are they are not native and have become invasive.  You will find many examples of very similar plants that are native for you to choose from.

As in life, we can’t control the elements but we can control how we react and deal with them.  We live in a magical environment where we have many, many challenges.  Try incorporating natives into your landscape for a unique, water-wise alternative.  If you’re looking for a new challenge, look into being a Native Plant Master! ( 

Native Plant Master program:

Friday, January 4, 2019

New Year's Resolution for your Landscape

by Kurt M. Jones
Chaffee County Extension Director 
Along with your list of getting more exercise, eating less, and losing some weight, let me offer some gardening resolutions that will help your garden, lawn and trees stay healthier as well.

I resolve to continue watering my trees and shrubs throughout the winter months…

Winter tree form
Dry air, low soil moisture and fluctuating temperatures are fall and winter characteristics in many areas of Colorado.  During extended periods, particularly October through February when there may be little or no snow cover, trees, shrubs and lawn grasses can be damaged if they do not receive supplemental water.
            The result of long, dry periods during fall and winter is injury or death of plant root systems.  The plants affected may appear perfectly normal and resume growth in the spring using stored food energy, only to weaken or die in late spring or early summer when stored energy runs out.  Weakened plants also may be subject to insect and disease problems later.
            It is important to water only when air temperatures are above freezing and the soil is not frozen.  Apply water early in the day so that it will have time to soak in before possible freezing occurs during the night.  If water freezes around the base of a tree or shrub, it can cause mechanical damage to the bark.  Heavy coatings of ice on turf grasses also can cause suffocation or result in matting of the grass.

I resolve to learn the names of plants on my property…

Suddenly the weight loss resolution looks easier, huh!  One of the first things that plant pathologists look at is what plant is being affected when abnormalities are found.  Many of us purchased our homes/properties with plants already present.  Especially if you enjoy sharing plant seeds or cuttings with friends and neighbors, it is especially important to know what plant is being shared.  A few years ago, a member of our beekeeping association was sharing seeds from a plant that he said the bees really enjoyed and it grew really well, low moisture, etc.  What was being shared was a noxious weed called common teasel…ouch!
Typical Colorado trees
I have also heard stories of other noxious weeds being shared such as meadow knapweed and myrtle spurge, both “A” List noxious weeds here in Colorado, and certainly not something we want to see propagated.
Some free resources available to help with identifying flowering plants include the Colorado Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed app for your phones or website available at  There are also a number of native plant guides available, one for mountains can be found at  Finally, to identify those pesky conifer trees on your property, navigate to our Conifer ID videos at  or navigate to

I resolve to make my home more defensible in the event of a wildfire…

Defensible space is an area around a structure where fuels and vegetation are treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire towards the structure. It also reduces the chance of a structure fire moving from the building to the surrounding forest. Defensible space provides room for firefighters to do their jobs. Your house is more likely to withstand a wildfire if grasses, brush, trees and other common forest fuels are managed to reduce a fire's intensity.
Creating an effective defensible space involves developing a series of management zones in which different treatment techniques are used.  Develop defensible space around each building on your property. Include detached garages, storage buildings, barns and other structures in your plan.
The actual design and development of your defensible space depends on several factors: size and shape of buildings, materials used in their construction, the slope of the ground on which the structures are built, surrounding topography, and sizes and types of vegetation on your property. These factors all affect your design.
Fire Mitigation- Before and After
            Hopefully, these resolutions will help keep your lawn and trees healthy, and your home safer during the upcoming fire season.  Good luck with your resolutions this year!

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Post Holiday bulb care

by Irene Shonle, revisiting an old favorite
The holidays are winding down and many of us now have pots of withering Amaryllis and paperwhites.  While it’s harder than I consider worth it to get paperwhites to re-bloom again in our climate (they are not hardy for planting outdoors), don't throw out your Amaryllis.  With a little care, it can bloom again next year - even better than it did this year!

Spent Amaryllis & Paperwhites
 The secret is to keep the plant actively growing after it blooms to recharge the bulb; it takes a lot of energy to produce such big flowers. If the bulb does not produce a flowering stalk the next blooming period, it is likely that has not stored enough nutrients during the post-blooming period.

After the flowers have faded, cut the flowers off to prevent seed set. Only cut the flowering stalk after it turns yellow, a green stalk continues to produce energy for the bulb.  In order to feed the bulb for next year's show, water and feed the plant regularly with an all-purpose houseplant fertilizer. Put the plant in the sunniest possible location for the rest of the winter to encourage strong leaf development. I have found that putting the pot outside during the summer after all danger of frost helps maximize photosynthesis and gives the best results. Make sure to slowly acclimate the plant to full sun to avoid sunburn (gradually increase the time spent in the sun each day for about a week).  I have also noticed that critters don't seem to bother either the leaves or the bulb - a bonus around here.  Remember to feed the plant a few times during the summer in addition to regularly watering.

Red Amaryllis
For blooms in time for the holidays, stop watering in mid-August and bring the pot inside. Let the foliage die back naturally as the soil dries out completely. When the leaves have withered, store the dormant bulb in a cool, dark and dry place for a minimum of eight to twelve weeks. Then, about six to eight weeks before you want the Amaryllis to flower again, place it in bright light and begin watering again - sparingly at first, so the bulb is not sitting in water.

If you don’t care when it blooms, there is no need to do the fall dormancy protocol. Continue watering and fertilizing the plant, and bring it inside before frost. Keep it in a sunny window, and it will usually bloom sometime in spring. The flowering stalk should emerge with or before the leaves if you have taken proper care of the plant. Watch as the number of flowers on the stalk increases in both number and size as the bulb increases in size.  Over time, the bulb may produce a new bulb, which you can remove and pot up separately. Amaryllis plants bloom best when they are somewhat pot-bound (crowded roots). They require re-potting only every 3 or 4 years. The best time to re-pot them is after they have gone through a dormant period in the fall.
Paperwhites in Winter
Irene is the County Extension Director in Gilpin County

Monday, December 17, 2018

Poinsettias and plants that may, or may not be, poisonous

by Kurt M. Jones
While Poinsettia plants are not actually poisonous, I was recently asked about this.  As a concerned parent of two young children, I decided to do some research about poisonous plants, and learned that the toddler in my life is more harmful to my Poinsettia houseplant than the plant is to him.
Poinsettia, not poisonous

However, this is not true of all plants in our home and landscape.  Some plants that grow in our landscape or surrounding areas can be dangerous for our children and pets.  One website that I often visit when looking into poisonous plants is CSU's Guide to Poisonous Plants,  This is a searchable website written by Dr. Tony Knight, DVM from the CSU Veterinary School.  Dr. Knight is a world-recognized expert on plant toxins for animals, but he cross references many of his plants as affecting humans.

Upon visiting the site and searching for 'humans,' a list of 22 plants was returned.  This site has good color pictures of plants, animals affected, and geographic locations of these plants.  Of course, there are many plants we are not likely to plant in our landscapes (like leafy spurge, water hemlock, death camas, or buckeyes). Yet, there are some plants that may find their way into our landscapes or potted plants (like Oleander, Autumn crocus, Glory lily, Rhododendron, Delphinium and Daffodils) that are toxic.  Easter lilies are especially toxic to house cats.
Easter lily
I also visited the Cornell University website for toxic plants, and did a search for plants poisonous to humans.  About 55 plants were returned in this search (including several mushroom species).  Included in this list is the Poinsettia, which was surprising.  The Society of American Florists has given a 'Clean Bill of Health' to the Poinsettia plant. It is, however, wise to keep Poinsettias and other plants out of the reach of children and household pets that show a desire to chew or eat plants.  The white latex sap in the leaves and stems is mildly irritating to the mucous membranes of the mouth, and for some animals it will induce excessive salivation and vomiting if plant parts are swallowed. The wide variety of hybrid poinsettias available today have very little toxicity compared to the parent species.  Other Euphorbia’s, include the various spurges, have been shown to be hazardous to humans when handled or consumed.
Leafy spurge

I also researched the incidence of plant poisonings for this article and was surprised at some of the findings.  According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, there were 64,236 (2.7 %) cases involving plants.  In pediatrics (age 5 or less), the percentage is higher (3.7%).  Of the plant calls received by poison control centers involved in this report, the Poinsettia was number 2 on the list.  For more information, visit their website at  Should you suspect poisoning, call 1-800-222-1222.  If it is an emergency, of course, dial 911.

So what should you do to prevent unwanted poisonings?  First, keep plants out of the reach of children.  Babies and toddlers like to stick new items into their mouths, and plants parts may be a choking hazard even if they are not poisonous.  Learn to identify problematic plants in and around your home.  Do some research on potential plant additions before bringing them home and endangering children or pets.  Should you have poisonous plants in your landscape or home, consider removing or take steps to insure they cannot harm (i.e. fencing off or elevating them in your home).
Kurt Jones is the CSU Chaffee County Extension Director

Monday, December 10, 2018

Great reference book for insects and diseases of woody plants

by Kristina Hughes
Gardening in the mountains is full of challenges, so I am always looking for reliable sources of horticultural information pertinent to our region and our specific issues (like this blog!). And it is especially important to have good information when trying to figure out what’s wrong with a struggling plant.

For the past two seasons I have been volunteering at the Jeffco Diagnostic Clinic where people bring us their sick plants for diagnosis. They also bring us insects they suspect might be doing evil in their landscapes, mysterious fungi that have appeared unbidden (often in mulch), and unfamiliar plants about whose identity clients are simply curious. We have to solve all kinds of garden and landscape problems.

We have an entire library of resource materials at the Clinic, including compendia of turf diseases and vegetable diseases, books large and small on almost every plant pathology subject. But I have found that there one which is my favorite. I don’t leave home without it (literally - I keep a copy in my car at all times). It’s easy to use and easy to understand. It’s geared specifically to problems in Colorado. I’ve been known to read it in my spare time because it’s so well organized and has such good pictures.....

It is ‘Insects and Diseases of Woody Plants in Colorado’ from CSU Extension, 2014 edition. It is a soft-cover, spiral-bound book of 322 pages and it cost $40 when I bought my copy several years ago.

It’s easier to use than any of the other books because in the back near the index there is a excellent key which directs the reader to the most likely culprits for any given plant.

Have you ever wondered why Ponderosa pines drop the tips of their branches periodically? If you looked in the back of this book, under ‘Pines’ there is a subsection for ‘Affecting trunk and larger branches’ and then a listing for ‘Chewing off twigs’ which directs you to read about Abert's squirrels on page 259. There you will find pictures of the types of damage squirrels can do to trees along with detailed information about which plants they damage, times of year damage is most likely to occur, life cycle of squirrels and recommendations for management. It is just enough detail for a layperson to be able to identify the problem and execute a solution confidently, without getting lost in overly technical jargon.

Spruce Gall Photo by Kristina
Have you seen this on a spruce? 

Or this on an aspen?
Poplar Twiggall Fly Photo by Utah State Extension

With this book, it’s easy to find out that the first one is Cooley Spruce Gall (page 140) and its mostly a cosmetic issue which usually doesn’t require intervention. The second one is caused by Poplar Twiggall Fly (page 141)which also doesn’t do much damage to the plant. 

This book addresses only problems of woody plants. But our woody plants are long-lived, important foundational elements in our landscapes and their loss can be devastating. This book contains a very broad range of information on insects, larger animal pests, bacteria, fungi, as well as non-living causes of disease, all organized in a highly accessible manner, which makes it easier for us to help our plants when they are struggling. I wish there were more books like this for other types of plants.

We have so many challenges in the mountains and having correct information allows us to be more effective when dealing with those challenges. I have found this book to be incredibly useful both in my personal gardening and in my various Master Gardener roles. It’s also just fun to read!

Kristina Hughes
Clear Creek County Master Gardener

Friday, November 30, 2018

The Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County
Native plants are some of the easiest plants to grow if you are a mountain gardener.  As I have been gardening up here for nearly twenty years, I have experimented with a lot of plants.  Some have done great, and some have died.  But, as I always say, “if you’re not killing plants, you’re not trying hard enough.”

Because I am a rather Darwinian gardener, I don’t coddle the plants in my garden. They have to make it despite drought, critters, winds, and long winters.  As a result, many of the non-native species have been weeded out.  Over the years, I have ended up with going from about 25% native to probably about 80% native.  And I couldn’t be happier.
If you are interested in native plants, please come to the 4th Annual Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference on February 16th at the Auraria Campus in Denver.

The Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference promotes the inclusion of native plants in our landscaping to benefit pollinators and songbirds, save water, and restore the beauty and health of nature in the places we live, work and play.

There are many delightful topics to pique your interest, including a keynote and endcap, and two tracks (‘new to natives’ and ‘knows the natives’).

Keynote: The Meeting Place: Exploring the work of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center by Andrea DeLong-Amaya
“The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing that all of us share.” — Lady Bird Johnson, Environmental First Lady
The University of Texas at Austin Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is the State Botanic Garden and Arboretum of Texas dedicated to inspiring the conservation of native plants. The Center’s gardens and arboretum display native plants from across Texas and serve as a model for creating beautiful, sustainable landscapes. The Center guides the development of urban and rural landscapes across the U.S. that incorporate native prairies, green roofs, rainwater harvesting and other sustainable features. It operates Native Plants of North America, the most comprehensive online native plant resource, and has set aside millions of seeds from Texas native plants for future generations and restoration activities.

In addition to educating children and adults about native plants and training citizen scientists to identify and report invasive species, the Center led the development of SITES®, a sustainable landscape rating system now used worldwide. Join Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center for a virtual tour of how the Wildflower Center works to improve water quality, provide habitat for wildlife and enhance human health and happiness. Together we can make the world a better place with native plants
Breakout Session 1
§  New to Natives Track: Plant It and They Will Come: Habitat Gardening by Susan Tweit
§  In a world of climate change, droughts, heat waves, and imperiled populations of songbirds and pollinators, what can home gardeners do to make a positive difference? Plant habitat! Gardens that mimic the form and composition of nearby natural areas, and are based on native and regionally adapted species will attract and sustain songbirds and pollinators, and make a crucial difference in restoring nature in our everyday spaces. As Habitat Hero program founder Connie Holsinger likes to say, “Plant it, and they will come.” Join plant ecologist and writer Susan J. Tweit to explore how a habitat garden can fit into your landscaping, and learn what plants to use, plus design basics to draw on whatever your style or location.
§  Knows the Natives Track: Historic Uses of Colorado Native Plants by Jim Tolstrup
§  For Native Americans and early pioneers, Colorado’s native plants served as grocery store and pharmacy, and also supplied fibers and dyes. Understanding these historic relationships helps deepen our understanding of both plants and people. Join Jim Tolstrup to learn more about cultural uses of native plants, as well as how to cultivate these unique species in your yards and gardens.

Breakout Session 2
§  New to Natives Track: Integrating Native Plants to Your Existing Landscape by Ronda Koski
§  By now you are thinking that embellishment of an existing residential, commercial, or municipal landscape with Colorado native plants is the “right thing” to do. Perhaps you have your retrofitted landscape all planned in your mind and may even have drawn it out on paper. But how does one turn those ideas into reality? This session will provide you with suggestions to help you be more successful with the integration of Colorado native plants into an existing landscape.
§  Knows the Natives Track: Penstemons for Colorado Gardens by Mike Kintgen
§  Mike Kintgen is the Curator of Alpine Collections at the Denver Botanic Gardens where he oversees the Alpine Collection and eight gardens including the Rock Alpine Garden, Mount Goliath and South African Plaza. The drive to see alpines in their native environments has allowed him to observe alpines in Alaska, Hawaii, Argentina, Morocco, Spain, the Alps, and throughout the American West. Recently he completed a master’s in environmental science at Regis University exploring precipitation gradients and soil pH in Colorado’s alpine tundra. He is a coauthor of several books published by Denver Botanic Gardens.
§  With over 250 species the genus Penstemon is found in almost every environment in Colorado and Western North America. Most of the Colorado and the surrounding regions species can be grown in gardens and make excellent additions to Xeric, Native, and Rock gardens. We will cover some of the best species for Colorado gardens and some helpful hints to grow them in your gardens.

Breakout Session 3
§  New to Natives Track: Plant This, Not That: Colorado Native Plant Alternatives to Common Garden Plants by Deryn Davidson
§  Now that you know the benefits of using Colorado native plants in your landscape, how do you choose which ones to use? Selecting Colorado native plants can be challenging for gardeners because they are not familiar with their ornamental characteristics. Therefore, this session will list well-known non-native plants and then feature ideal Colorado native alternatives.
§  Knows the Natives Track: Native Grasses by Nick Daniel
§  Nick will give an overview of some well-known, and some not so well-known native grasses with horticultural importance. Using native grasses in your landscape is just as important as any other flowering plant in terms of water saving, wildlife value, and aesthetic. Cultural information and design considerations will be the focus of this presentation.

Breakout Session 4
§  New to Natives Track: Native Plants for Year-Round Interest by Irene Shonle
§  Native plants can provide interest all year round, even in winter. We will look at plants that shine in each season, and discuss many winning plant combinations as well.
§  Knows the Natives Track: Colorado Native Plants on Green Roofs? by Jennifer Bousselot
§  Colorado’s rich native flora provides a proverbial feast for green roof enthusiasts worldwide. The City of Denver has recently passed one of the most aggressive green roof initiatives in the world. You too can have a green roof – on your home or simply a birdhouse green roof. Explore the emerging topic of using native plants on green roofs with one of the worlds few green roof plant experts.

Closing Endnote: The Nature of Colorado’s Native Plant Industry: Unveiling the Mysteries Behind Supply, Demand and Selection by Pat Hayward
If the nursery industry was like manufacturing, we’d always have a good supply of the species we need; if plants were more like widgets. they’d be consistent in form and size. If our natural world was a controlled biodome, everything would grow beautifully and without losses or failures. In Colorado, however, our horticultural world is dynamic and unpredictable, making our gardening lives more “interesting,” and causing increasing challenges to our native plant industry.

In this session you’ll learn about native plant production, gain insights into demand dynamics and discover how new native plant selections come to market. What new techniques are growers using? How is consumer demand for natives changing? And why-oh-why can’t we ever get enough of the new varieties?

Hope to see you there!

Friday, November 16, 2018

Simple Composting

by Yvette Henson
I love compost!  There is nothing that I can think of that is more beneficial for soil.  And, we all know that the secret to great gardens is the soil.  While it is more difficult to compost in the mountains, it can be done.  The most common frustrations are that it breaks down more slowly in our cooler summers and it often attracts critters like bears and skunks!  However, once you have successfully made your own compost, added it to your soil and seen your plants response you will know it is worth the extra management to speed up the composting process.  If you still find it too problematic outdoors, you can build a worm-bin or some other indoor composting system. Or once you are a “true believer”, like me, you will do both!

A 3-bin composting system
Compost has many benefits.  It increases water-holding capacity of sandy soils and improves drainage of heavy (clay) soils.  It also decreases the amount of shrink-swell of clay soils.  It improves soil aeration, infiltration, tilth and structure and reduces soil compaction and water runoff.  It increases soil biota and decreases disease and insect problems.  It improves soil fertility and moderates pH.  Composting reduces the amount of waste going into our landfills.

There are also a few potential environmental risks from the composting process and overusing compost.  Unfinished or immature compost may have phytotoxins that can kill plants.  Applying too much over time can build up toxicity of certain nutrients (especially Phosphorous) in the soil.  Leachates from compost can contaminate surface water or ground water if located too close to water sources.  Odor from improper composting is the most common complaint.

Steps for simple composting:
·         Locate to get around 6 hours of sunlight a day, but some shade will keep it moist. 
·         Use an ‘ideal’ ratio of 25-30:1 carbon to nitrogen when building your pile. 
o   Carbon is dry, brown or yellow, bulky material like autumn leaves, bark, paper, wood and sawdust.  Carbon gives energy to microorganisms but too much will slow decomposition.  Nitrogen is green, moist material like grass clippings, food wastes (including coffee and tea grounds) and fresh animal manures. 
o   Nitrogen increases microorganism populations. Nitrogen materials have high moisture and low oxygen, so too much leads to low temperatures, odor and leaching. 

Nitrogen sources to layer with dried leaves,
a carbon source, to build compost pile
·         Layer your carbon and nitrogen in equal, shallow layers.  Top with a thin layer of soil or well-composted manure if desired.  Variety is the key!
·         Build your pile to at least 4-6’ high and wider.
·         Keep moist-- like a damp sponge. If it isn’t moist enough it will break down slowly.  If it is too moist it will not have enough oxygen.
·         Keep well-drained and aerated.   If your pile doesn’t get enough oxygen it will have an odor and it will break down more slowly. 
·         The best temperature range for microorganisms to do the breakdown process is 90° - 140° F.  Too cool slows decomposition; too hot kills beneficial microorganisms (but also weed seeds).
·         Turning the pile speeds up decomposition (see the following graph).
Graph from Cornell Composting Fact Sheet #5
·         You will know your compost is finished when it maintains 70 degrees and larger pieces of what you have added have ‘disappeared’.  Chunky carbon like small branches, seeds and egg shells can be screened out.  
·        Apply your compost an inch or 2 deep and work into the top 8-12” of your garden soil before planting or apply a thin layer as mulch on your perennial plantings

What about those pesky critters?
Personally, I’ve never had much problem with critters in my piles because I don’t add fruit, meat, grease or cooked food.  I save fruit for the worm bin.  I always cover my nitrogen materials, after adding them with a layer of carbon (bagged leaves or spent straw are what I usually have on hand).  Other things that might discourage critters:  use ‘bear proof’ containers for composting, electrify your compost perimeter, use repellents (hot pepper spray, etc.) and again, be sure to avoid adding meat, fish, oil, grease or dairy products and maybe egg shells.  Not adding fruit or burying it deeply in the pile is something to try too.