Thursday, October 20, 2016

Proper fall clean-up cultivates healthy spring gardens

Proper fall clean-up cultivates healthy spring gardens
A Baker’s Dozen Easy Steps to a Healthy Garden by Jeff Pieper, Extension Agent for CSU Extension in Eagle County

There is an undeniable nip of fall in the air, and to some, that nip signals the end of golf or perhaps hiking season, but to the gardener, it is a signal to prepare for spring. Everything you do or don’t do in the fall will directly affect your spring garden. Pests and diseases reside in the soil and plant debris, so if you want your spring garden to have a healthy start, you need to put your fall garden to bed properly.  Thirteen simple steps will get you there.

Step 1: Cut back and protect perennials
Cut down perennials to within a couple of inches of the ground as they die back, to tidy up the garden and to remove any pests and diseases, taking care to discard any diseased plant material. Divide overgrown clumps of perennials and replant them while the soil is still warm to improve the health and appearance of those perennials. 

Step 2: Remove spent annuals and seasonal vegetables
Annuals and most vegetables do not come back every year, so you should pull them up, roots and all.

Step 3: Remove weeds and leaf debris
Rake and gather leaves not only in the garden and out from under shrubs, but also on the lawn. A thick layer of leaves acts like insulation and can encourage diseases like snow molds. Use the leaves as mulch in your garden beds or compost them. Leaves are a great source of organic matter, something all soils in this area could use more of. 

Step 4: Compost only healthy material
Dispose of diseased plant material. If you are composting, make sure your pile reaches temperatures greater than 140 degrees F to kill diseases and weed seed. To help your pile reach those temperatures, augment your pile with coffee grounds, beer mash, or non-treated lawn clippings, and make sure to water and turn your pile frequently. Composting is a great way to reduce waste in landfills, reduce the need for water and fertilizers, and save you money.

Step 5: Get a soil test
If you haven’t already done so, get a soil test to identify pH, organic matter, and nutrient levels in your soil. For more information about soil testing, visit the Colorado State University Extension office in Eagle.

Step 6: Amend the soil
Once you get your soil test results, you may need to adjust the pH (acidity or alkalinity). Add lime to raise the pH and sulphur to lower it. Most soils in Colorado are alkaline.  Add compost, manure, and other organic amendments in the fall, allows them to break down and create healthy soil over winter.

Step 7: Add mulch
Mulch perennial and shrub beds. This protects both plant roots and the soil and moderates the effects of extreme moisture and temperature changes during winter freezes and thaws.

Step 8: Protect trees and shrubs from pests and high altitude sun
Wrap the bark of newly planted trees to protect them from being scorched by the intense winter sun or damaged by small animals.

Step 9: Plant bulbs, trees and shrubs
Plant spring flowering bulbs such as daffodils and crocuses. Mulch bulb beds with evergreen boughs to protect the soil from heaving during the winter. The cool fall temperatures are a great time to plant new shrubs and trees.

Step 10: Sow flower seeds and grass seeds
Sow wildflower and grass seeds when temperatures are below 40 degrees, but before the ground freezes.

Step 11: Save seeds
Collect and save seeds. Avoid getting them wet and store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place until you are ready to sow in the spring.

Step 12: Winterize containers, tools and garden furniture
Clean and store garden furniture and outdoor planters.  Clean and sharpen garden tools. Tools and other supplies last longer when they are properly cleaned, and it’s always nicer to start a new gardening season with supplies that are as anxious to get back into the dirt as you are. 

Lucky 13: Make a plan to water trees and shrubs
Colorado’s winters can be very hard on trees and shrubs. If there is no snow cover and the temps are over 40 degrees F, make sure to water trees and shrubs once a month during the winter months. The extra moisture will help prevent them from drying out in our harsh drying winds, and intense winter sun.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Design a Native Plant Garden

Have you ever wanted to design a native plant garden or expand an existing one?  You won’t want to miss this class - Webinar – Designing a Native Plant Garden, scheduled for Thursday, November 3 from noon to 1 p.m. From the comfort of your home or office, you’ll learn how to design and develop your very own native plant garden. 

This webinar is a fundraiser for the statewide Native Plant Master Program, with all proceeds going to benefit the program, so please consider registering to support this CSU Extension program. Meet the presenter here. Register at

This online class will be taught by Deryn Davidson, Horticulture Agent with CSU Extension in Boulder County. Deryn was formerly a horticulturist at the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center. Register at For more information, contact or call 303-271-6621.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Gardening with Beneficial Friends by Jackie Buratovich, Colorado Master Gardener

I’m nearing the end of my second summer in a passive solar house with an 80-foot expanse of south-facing windows.  At 7,000 feet, where the outdoor gardening season can be fickle and short lived, the idea of stuffing our large window planters with vegetables and enjoying vine fresh tomatoes at Christmas held huge appeal.   Little did I know that I was starting a whole new gardening adventure.

Late fall and my solar palace was bursting with green.  Tomatoes crowded four window bays, cucumbers hung from the ceiling between the kitchen and the window planters, the odor of herbs filled the air in the late afternoon; this was a gardener’s dream!  Or so I thought.  First I noticed the peppers.  Transplanted starts from a reputable grower, they were anemic and the fruit wasn’t developing properly – especially for the amount of warmth and sun they were getting.   Then, the cucumbers between the kitchen and the solar hall declined; I expect some powdery mildew on cucurbits, but the additional shiny sticky coating and spider-webbing was a concern.  My research pointed to white flies, and I tried Neem Oil and another organic pesticide with little impact.

It was Thanksgiving, snow was on the ground yet the tomato vines crowding the windows weren’t freezing.  To provide the interior of my rowdy tomatoes with air and sun, I judiciously began pruning non-bearing limbs and some of the larger leaves.  I started to notice a suspicious shiny coating on the vines…a bit of pruning led to major hacking…and tears.  The leaves at the windows and the window sills themselves were covered with a thick layer of honeydew.  Devastated, I cut the plants down and tossed them into the burn pile.  A week later, kale at the other end of the house was covered with little green critters, stickiness and damage.  I collected a couple of leaves and went over to the extension office to use the microscope. Hmmm…they looked like aphids, but aphids can be species selective.  I didn’t expect all the plants would be attacked.  Our awesome extension agent, Todd Hagenbuch, sent my samples to the CSU greenhouse entomologist and the verdict came back:  Green Peach Aphids – a wee bestie that’s particularly problematic in greenhouses and resistant to chemical pesticides (which I’m not going to use in my living space anyway).  The population was substantial enough that the darn things were reaching the winged adult stage – which explained the movement through the house.  Aphids are blind, dumb, and barely mobile…but allow them to grow wings and watch out!

The extension expert sent me a CSU paper on biological control of insects, how they work and where to find them.  I made some calls to ‘insectaries’ and settled on lacewing larvae, an aphid predator.  They come as eggs on cards that are hung near aphid infestations. The adults don’t seem to do well in greenhouse environments, so I would need to keep hanging new cards.  The lacewings worked, but my aphid problem was out of control…now they’d found the bougainvillea!   Desperate, I released two batches of aphidoletes aphidimyza. This is a tiny midge (in the fly family) that flies around laying eggs near aphid populations on the leaves. The aphidoletes eggs hatch into tiny larvae (maggot-like) that scoot around the leaves eating aphids.  Within about a month, there was no honeydew, the new shoots were free of aphids and we could now expect fresh tomatoes and other vegetables.  

It has been a fascinating adventure in allowing what happens in nature to work in a home.  The only drawback is teeny little flies that are attracted to my late-night headlamp but it’s a small tradeoff for fresh vegetables all winter long!

Photo by I, Luc Viatour, CC BY-SA 3.0,