Thursday, September 20, 2018

Trowel and Error - Indoor Lemons

by Jackie Buratovich
When my parents left my childhood home, with its rich sandy loam and lovingly tended orchards and vineyards, for a postage stamp lot on a golf course, Dad planted a dwarf Meyer Lemon in a large pot and placed it in an area of dappled sun and, whenever I’d visit, that darn thing was covered in fruit.  I couldn’t get enough of the slightly sweet tangy flavor in ice tea, water and heavenly desserts.  Then I toured a friends’ greenhouse in the Reno Nevada area – elevation about 4,500 feet - and was surprised to find a mature Meyer Lemon tree covered in bright yellow fruit.  My friend said it was practically trouble free and produced consistently.  She too, loves the unusually sweet fruit, especially in mid-winter.

That did it! The first major botanic purchase I made when we moved into our rustic solar home was – you got it – a dwarf Meyer Lemon tree.  The little thing came wrapped in burlap with bare roots and a couple of strong branches.  We dedicated a pop-out in the south wall of windows and planted it in a good-sized pot with high quality soil.  Then we waited. 

Anytime you transplant a plant it takes time for the thing to adjust.  The root system needs to establish itself well enough to support above-ground growth. Sometimes they don’t make it.  This was late fall and sunny winter days in our solar home result in a toasty indoor space; snowy days are cold with warm areas around the pellet stove and much cooler temperatures at the windows.  I’m not sure my tree grew during those cold dark months, but it lived.  Then suddenly it was spring.  The daylight increased and new shoots appeared so fast I spent time watching for leaves to unfold.  But then it stalled.  The new leaves didn’t look so good, kind of dull.  It never flowered.

I’m a firm believer in organic growing methods – especially anything we will eat.  Citrus need a balanced fertilizer and since I used potting soil (not our native clay that’s practically void of nitrogen but high enough in potassium and phosphorus not to need these additions), my new project needed more nutrients than those found in blood meal and my suite of organic potions.  Finally I broke down and tried the non-organic Miracle Grow stashed in the garage.  Holy hand grenades!  Suddenly my little tree went crazy with life – flowers everywhere, more green growth.  You would walk in the front door and think, what is that wonderful smell?  Yum!! Citrus flowers!!

Citrus trees are usually self-pollinating, meaning that its flowers have both female and male parts.  The pollen on the male part (anther) falls onto the female part (stigma) and this “pollination” creates fruit.  Since the indoor environment doesn’t, in general, host pollinators or winds strong enough to move the pollen around and I wasn’t 100% sure it would make fruit on its own, I decided to help things along.  Armed with a small brush and buzzing like a bee (yes, really – family thought this was very amusing), I dabbed here then there, spreading pollen from flower to flower.  Soon tiny little green orbs appeared – botany is so miraculous!

So now you are wondering, did we actually eat lemons?  Well…part of being an avid gardener is what I call trowel and error.  As a Master Gardener, I tell people, don’t be afraid of failing.   Do your research (CSU and other Extension services are a fabulous place to start), keep good notes and once you’ve figured out your mistakes, try not to repeat them.  My tree still has lemons which are large, green and soft.  I just picked one and while it’s not as sweet as Dad’s, the flavor is unmistakably Meyer.   

My research has given me lots of information, some contradictory, so I focus on the “edu” or commercial grower sites.  Meyer lemons may stay on the tree for months before they turn yellow.  Temperature swings, which mine experiences in spades, can affect ripening, as can inconsistent watering and feeding.  When we travel, my poor pet is at the mercy of whomever is caring for our garden. The tree flowers periodically, which is common and not a bad thing from the fragrance perspective, and I’m careful to keep the stress on it to a minimum by removing only a few of the new lemons.  It is susceptible to and I constantly battle spider mites and thrips (the bane of my indoor gardening existence).

Consistent watering and feeding and insect wars are challenging, but what a reward those lemons are going to be...when they turn yellow!  I have faith.  I have lemons.  In Steamboat. At 7,000’!  Life is good: it’s giving me lemons and I just might make lemonade!

Jackie Buratovich was raised in a central California farm family and loves making things grow in and around a solar home here in Routt County.  She received her Master Gardener training in Boulder County in 2003, and acknowledges that while growing conditions here are more challenging, being back in an agricultural community is like coming home and being able to grow greens outside all summer long is a bonus!

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Season Extension

by Yvette Henson
Earlier this year, March 22, I wrote an article for this blog about season extension and our High Altitude Season Extension research trials in the San Miguel Basin (San Miguel and West Montrose Counties in SW Colorado).  In that article, I said I would post a follow up article about the different crops we have grown under covers and how they have performed.  This is that article. 

We have been conducting season extension trials since 2011.  Our raised bed trial beds are located in Telluride at 8750’ elevation.  Telluride has about a 60 day frost-free growing season from mid to late June till the end of August/early September. In the previous blog post I gave a summary of what we have learned about growing under the different season extension covers that we chose and best uses for each cover based on how crops perform grown under them. 
The materials we chose for our covers are (left to right, in the above photo):  Agribon Ag30, a medium weight (0.9 oz/yd2) spun-bonded polypropylene row cover fabric; Insulated 5mm twin-wall SolexxTM XP paneling, a flexible polyethylene cover, fitted with an automatic vent opener;  Dio-Betalon (Tuffbell 3800N) polyvinyl alcohol film and no cover for our control bed.  Initially, we layered Dio-Betalon and 30% Row Cover but eventually we added another bed and separated the two layers.

In 2011-2012, 2012-2013 and 2014-2015 we grew different greens ‘through’ the winter.  Eagle County and Teller County collaborated in the first two seasons by growing the same things along with us.  We trialed several different varieties of spinach (Spinacia oleracea), kale (Brassica napus), lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta) and arugula (Eruca sativa).  In 2011, we planted in mid-September, got a very small harvest before the holidays and then started harvesting again in late February or early March.  We learned that mid-August is the better planting time because the plants get more time to establish and we get a better pre-holiday harvest.  All the greens did best under the Solexx cover followed closely by the 30% Row Cover + Dio-betalon layered.  Kale didn’t overwinter well.  Spinach and arugula produced the most with only some winter damage.  The lamb’s lettuce was the hardiest green and the earliest to mature.  It was also the only green that didn’t seem to be affected by day length and temperature.  The other greens would stop growing when the days were the shortest and coldest and would resume growing when days began to get longer in late February.
2012-2014 we grew 7 replications of many different lettuce (Lactuca sativa) varieties at 3 locations. The first year we planted seed in mid-May but by the 3rd year we had started even earlier – by the 3rd week in April.  We tried succession planting (2 weeks apart) and overwintering. Overall, 30% Row Cover + Dio-Betalon layered together gave the highest yield but Dio-Betalon alone gave the best quality.  The succession planting worked really well and give a longer season of head lettuce rather than a single large harvest.  We found that the lettuce needed to be about half way mature to overwinter well.  Lettuce loves growing in the mountains!  If you aren’t growing head lettuce give it a try next season.

In 2015 we grew 4 varieties of Open Pollinated carrots (Daucus carota subsp. sativus).  We direct seeded mid-March and harvested mid-June.  We could have harvested earlier.  We got the best yield and quality of carrots grown under Dio-Betalon, followed by 30% Row Cover.  Both of those covers get better light transmission and don’t get as hot as our Solexx bed.  So, it makes sense that carrots wouldn’t grow as well under Solexx since carrots are cool season crops.  An interesting fact about one of the carrot varieties we grew is that ‘Pusa Asita’ carrots are a short day variety that does well in the cool season of hotter climates.  Short season carrots don’t do well in the mountains.  

2016, we grew 3 varieties of Open Pollinated broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica).  We chose varieties that would produce both heads and side shoots to extend the harvest.  We started the plants from seed and grew them out to seedling stage before we planted them out in mid to late May.  Like carrots, broccoli is a cool season crop so it grew better under the more ventilated covers.  The Dio-Betalon cover produced the earliest and highest yield of heads and the 30% Row Cover produced the highest yield of shoots.  We found we preferred to eat the side shoots rather than the heads—they were tenderer.  Broccoli grows fine with no cover, in fact no cover produced better yield than the Solexx cover.  However, covers give the advantage of an earlier harvest and protection from cabbage worms, etc.
In 2017 we grew 3 varieties of bush green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris).  We also grew a short trial of bush green beans in 2011 and a full trial in 2013, along with summer squash.  The results of the 2017 bush bean trials compared to the 2 earlier trials was so different and we are still trying to figure it out.  But in a nutshell, bush beans grow much, much better under cover than with no cover!  They are warm season crops so the additional heat that some type of cover provides is definitely needed to grow them in the mountains. 

This year we are growing 3 varieties of day-neutral strawberries (Fragaria × ananassa).  It has been a challenging year to try to establish strawberries because of the drought we are experiencing.  We will continue this trial in 2019 after we overwinter the plants under covers.

To summarize and remind you of what I wrote in the March article, growing under cover compared to growing in the open without cover improves the growth and yield of most crops and gives protection against insects, wind and harsh sunlight.  For the warm-season crops we’ve grown (beans, summer squash) most have performed best under Solexx and Dio-Betalon or 30% Row Cover + Dio-Betalon layered.  Cool-season crops (winter greens, lettuces, carrots and broccoli) haven’t done as well under Solexx as the other covers.  Sometimes they even grow better under no cover than under Solexx!  However, Solexx, has yielded earliest cool-season crops making it a good choice to get extra early harvest before it gets too hot in the summer.  It is also better at holding moisture in the soil than the other covers but the humid environment can contribute to disease.  Solexx also tends to get salt buildup in the soil because it doesn’t allow any rainfall through to leach it out.  

The Dio-Betalon cover gives early and good yields of all crops and so is a good choice for both warm season and cool season crops.  Dio-Betalon lets in a lot of light and has produced good quality crops, especially colored lettuces.  We’ve found the soil under this cover can dry out quickly.  Cool-season crops do very well grown under the 30% row cover fabric.  It creates a humid environment, the lushest vegetative growth and helps with seed germination.  However, the moist environment also promotes disease.  Dio-Betalon + 30% Row Cover layered increases the benefits as well as the drawbacks of either cover used alone.  Both together let in less light.  We don’t grow under both layers anymore.  For some cool season crops planted at the recommended time (not extra early) the only benefit of covers is insect and critter control, shade and wind protection.

I’ll be glad to answer any questions you may have about growing under cover and/or the varieties we have grown.  Contact me at

Friday, September 7, 2018

What to do with all the Bounty! (canning)

“My mom put up lots of fruits and vegetables but never showed me how,” my friend said wistfully as she helped me prepare peaches for the canner.  “Even my in-laws canned but always said it was too much work and I wouldn’t want to do it.”  I put that sentiment in the same disappointing category as not sharing the European language my parents spoke at home when I was growing up because they didn’t want us to start school “sounding foreign.”  Fortunately, we were a 4H family and food preservation was just what everyone did in summer and fall.  There were community packing/processing plants that welcomed the public and even provided “seconds” (blemished or off-size fruits) for pennies that we peeled, cut, and placed into cans for their facility to safely process.  The local 4H food preservation instructor let my city-raised mother join us kids to learn the art and science of preserving nature’s bounty for the lean times. 

Too much work, you say?  Yep, it takes some time, planning and some specialized equipment, but there’s a certain magic to opening a jar of local peaches in the dead of winter and tasting summer.  My step daughters help in the process without me even asking because they want peach jam that tastes of peaches (not sugar syrup), or crunchy pickles with garlic from our garden, or applesauce from apples they prepped with our silly corer/peeler tool. 

Too dangerous you say – all that risk of botulism?  I still reference my mom’s heavily annotated Sunset and extension publications for ideas (and to see mom’s handwriting before I try to channel her endless kitchen energy), but I stick strictly to the processing times and modern lower-sugar syrup recipes found in the CSU Extension Service publications.  “Canning can be dangerous if tested methods are not followed, and this is especially true in Colorado,” says Extension Specialist Marisa Bunning of CSU, “because adjustments often need to be made for elevation. Many canning recipes available to the public do not account for higher elevation, and that can lead to food spoilage or even contamination with botulism toxin. Although it is critically important to adjust for elevation to ensure the temperature is adequate to destroy bacterial spores, this is a science lesson that is not very well-known.”
Now here is where the wonderful CSU Food Science and Human Nutrition department and Extension experts have really outdone themselves:  there’s an app for this!  Preserve Smart is available for both Apple and Android platforms and there is an online version as well at  The app focuses on food preservation methods and basics. Users can choose whether they want to preserve fruits or vegetables, and then select their particular type of produce. Preservation options vary depending on the type of produce, but include freezing, canning, drying and making spreadable preserves, like jams and jellies.  Preserve Smart differs from any food preservation magazine or book because it allows users to set their elevation before starting the preservation process. Elevation needs to be taken into account when canning, especially in Colorado and other high elevation locations, because if not done correctly, it can be a serious health threat.

Too much equipment needed?  Not really, and what you don’t already have in your kitchen is all available locally at our hardware, grocery and even thrift stores. You’ll need a water-bath canner:  this is a large enamel pot with a rack in the bottom to hold the jars.  If you’re going to tackle acidic fruits like tomatoes (more advanced food preservation) you’ll want a pressure cooker.  A jar lifter is a nice tool as it makes lifting full jars easier and safer; a plastic canning funnel is a necessity in my book.  An enamel Dutch Oven or heavy stock pot is needed to cook the fruit or syrup, a pasta pot is nice to sanitize jars and rims, and a small sauce pan is needed to boil the lids.  Lots of towels, some kitchen tongs, sharp paring knives, mixing bowls, a ladle, large spoons, and oven mitts are also needed.  You’ll want pectin for jams and jellies and there are low/no sugar brands out there.

Now – jars!  There’s a dizzying array of jars out there these days and I’ve seen good used ones at our thrift store for pennies:  4-ounce jelly jars to 2-quart spaghetti sauce monsters.  The boiling water in your canner needs to be at least an inch above the jars when you process so take the depth of your canner into consideration when buying jars.  There are two choices of openings: standard and wide mouth.  Wide mouth are easier to pour and place through.  Also consider the serving size of a jar and how long it will take to use the contents once it has been opened.  A quart of peaches doesn’t last long at our house, but a pint of jam will go bad because we are only using a tablespoon at a time.  I tend to use pints and quarts for whole or sliced fruits and 4-oz and half pint jars for jams and compotes.  For gifts – and who doesn’t love a homemade jar of jam at Christmas – smaller jars will give you more goodies.

Finally – rims and lids.  Just like the jars, these come in regular and wide mouth and they are 2-piece: the rim is a metal band and the lid is a flat metal disk with a rubber seal that sits on the jar rim. You can reuse jars and rust-less rims, but never reuse lids.  Lids and rims and can be purchased together and separately.

Of course, there are lots more details and every recipe has its own requirements – but it is all in the app.  Remember - there is just nothing like the taste of summer during a snow storm, or your own jalapeno jelly on cream cheese at the holidays, or wrapping up your homemade preserves to give to friends at Christmas.  The latter is a tradition my mother started when we both learned to can, and everyone looked forward to her creations.  Luckily for us, the CSU Extension is making it safe and convenient to apply the science – it’s up to you to add the art.  Download Preserve Smart today and get started!

Jackie Buratovich was raised in a central California farm family and loves making things grow in and around a solar home here in Routt County.  She received her Master Gardener training in Boulder County in 2003, and acknowledges that while growing conditions here are more challenging, being back in an agricultural community is like coming home and being able to grow greens outside all summer long is a bonus!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Tough Plants

by Vicki Barney
The north side of my house is a poor spot for a garden, receiving very little sun and used for winter snow storage.   When a number of plants sprouted here, I was surprised.  They must be tough plants.

Utility workers disturbed this inhospitable area a few years back and subsequently, it was graveled. A few weeds sprang up, mainly prostrate knotweed and prickly lettuce, but no worrisome weeds.  In the middle of the gravel, flowering plants appeared: Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea), Common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and Spreading dogbane (Apocynum androsaemifolium).  These plants grow elsewhere without my help and tend to be aggressive but, since they are thriving and draw pollinators, they are welcome here.

Nothing grew in the least hospitable spot - along the wall – until this last spring.  Graveled and shady most of the time, it receives a little moisture as it is directly under the roof’s dripline.  Surprisingly, this little bit of moisture has created an attractive environment for some really tough plants.
Tough columbine
Beautiful Columbine (Aquilegia spp.) was the first to appear. I inadvertently planted it when seeds I had collected for another project scattered in the wind.  The plant appeared in several spots and produced stunning flowers in light blue and white.  Bloom time varied with the location of each plant; those in colder and shadier locations blooming later than the others, and all later than those planted in garden areas.   The last one to bloom displayed a completely white flower in late July. Liking their roots cool and shaded, these Columbine plants seem to have found a good home and still have green leaves.

The fastest growing plant is a currant, which likely is a Golden Currant (Ribes aureum).  It is about 3 feet tall and has 4 sturdy stems with bright green leaves and must have sprouted from seed from the Golden currant shrub around the corner.  If it survives the poor conditions, it could spread by rhizome and become a pretty hedge with yellow blossoms for early arriving pollinators.  A hedge would be welcome here.
Creeping Oregon grape
Much less noticeable but also welcome is a Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens or Berberis repens). It too must have grown by seed from nearby plants and has produced several holly-shaped spiny leaves.  Either sprawling or compact, it would be an attractive addition with its bright yellow flowers, blue berries, and leaves in colors of red and green.  Hopefully it too will survive here.

Not surprisingly, Serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia) is also growing here.  I imagine Serviceberry roots blanket my yard as the shrub has extensive root systems and sprouts everywhere.  A few small stems with oval leaves are visible and will need to be monitored before their 6 to 10 foot size overtakes the area.  In spite of this, it is welcome since its pretty white blossoms and dark blue berries attract wildlife.
I have one mystery plant that is sprouting elsewhere in my yard.  It is composed of a single stem with compound leaves made up of oval, slightly toothed leaflets that are opposite compound and in opposing pairs. I believe it is some sort of ash tree, seeded from a neighboring tree.  Until identified, it is not welcome.

Seeing these plants emerge and thrive is fascinating and encourages me to experiment with planting in other inhospitable areas.  It will be interesting to see who survives this hot, dry summer and long winter.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Indian Paint Brush of the Rocky Mountains

by Ed Powers
   As many of our readers know I travel areas of the Rocky Mountains annually and enjoy the abundant flora at all elevations.  I have really fallen love with the Indian Paint Brush flowers.  The plants are simple but the flowers are amazing and they come in several colors. Originally, I thought the different colors were a result of the altitude and soil condition, but I have come to learn each color is a different species.

   Indian paintbrush flowers are named for the clusters of spiky blooms that resemble paintbrushes dipped in bright red or orange-yellow paint. Growing this wildflower can add interest to the native garden. About the Indian paintbrush, also known as Castilleja, Indian paintbrush wildflowers grow in forest clearings and grasslands across the Western and Southwestern United States. Indian paintbrush is a biennial plant that usually develops rosettes the first year and stalks of blooms in spring or early summer of the second year. The plant is short-lived and dies after it sets seed. However, if conditions are right, Indian paintbrush reseeds itself every autumn. This unpredictable wildflower grows when it is planted in close proximity with other plants, primarily grasses or native plants such as penstemon or blue-eyed grass. This is because Indian paintbrush sends roots out to the other plants, then penetrates the roots and “borrows” nutrients it needs in order to survive. They are hemiparasitic on the roots of grasses and forbs.  Indian paintbrush tolerates cold winters but it doesn’t perform well in the USDA zones 8 and above, which is interesting because I find them above 9,000’ and I can’t seem to grow them in Evergreen, at 7,600’, zones 3 & 4.

   Castilleja, commonly known as Indian paintbrush or prairie-fire, is a genus of about 200 species of annual and perennial herbaceous plants native to the west of the Americas from Alaska south to the Andes, northern Asia, and one species as far west as the Kola Peninsula in northwestern Russia. These plants are classified in the broomrape family. The generic name honors Spanish botanist Domingo Castillejo.

   The flowers of Indian paintbrush are edible, and were consumed in moderation by various Native American tribes as a condiment with other fresh greens. These plants have a tendency to absorb and concentrate selenium in their tissues from the soils in which they grow, and can be potentially very toxic if the roots or green parts of the plant are consumed. Highly alkaline soils increase the selenium levels in the plants. Indian paintbrush has similar health benefits to consuming garlic if only the flowers are eaten in small amounts and in moderation.
The Ojibwe Tribes used a hair wash made from Indian paintbrush to make their hair glossy and full bodied, and as a treatment for rheumatism. The high selenium content of this plant has been cited as the reason for its effectiveness for these purposes. Nevada Indian tribes used the plant to treat sexually transmitted diseases and to enhance the immune system.

   Castilleja linariifolia is the state flower of Wyoming, and will grow well in the Rockies of Colorado.

Reference - CSU Fact sheets and Garden Notes
Grow Native - Missouri Prairie Foundation

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Currant Appeal

by Vicky Barney

The berry shrubs are loaded with fruit this year, most noticeably the serviceberry, whose branches are drooping under the weight.  In the wild and in my yard, I’m looking forward to watching the berries disappear and will be paying particular attention to my currants.

Golden Currant
Currants (Ribes spp.) are deciduous shrubs with 3-5 lobed leaves and edible tart fruit historically used by Native Americans for food and medicinal purposes.   In my yard, two shrubs have the distinctive leaves and berries, and similar looking arching branches.  Their pea sized berries are growing in small clusters, each with a “pigtail” which is the remnant of its flower.  Both shrubs are thorn less, drought tolerant, and, to date, of no interest to deer, moose, or bear.  But the shrubs have some differences that lead me to think they are different varieties of currant. 

On the east side of my yard, a small currant shrub is growing.  About 3 feet in size, it is has pretty bright green 5 lobed leaves and arching branches.  The spring flowers are inconspicuous but the berries are beautiful this time of year: bright red and clustered.  They are also tasteless.  I believe the shrub is a variety of the non-native Red currant (Ribes rubrum).

Red Currant
Red currant is native to Europe and has been widely cultivated, both for fruit production and for landscaping purposes.  It prefers cool soil temperatures with full sun and fertile loamy soil.  My red currant is planted in a partly sunny area and is growing at a pleasant pace. It might produce flavorful berries if the shrub received more sunshine, water, and fertilizer, or it may be an ornamental variety with berries designed for looks rather than taste.

On the west side of my yard, the currant shrub is much larger (over 6 feet tall).  It produced numerous fragrant, trumpet shaped yellow flowers in mid-May, providing early season food for pollinators.  I believe it is Golden currant (Ribes aureum), a native to most of North America.  Once the flowers faded, the shrub blended into the landscape with its bright green 3 lobed leaves.  Inconspicuous berries appeared recently, orange at first and then turning black. The berries are quite tart and are disappearing, likely feeding the birds.

Golden Currant
Golden currant prefers well drained soil in sun to part shade.  My shrub is situated on a slope that receives midday sun and very little water.  For a time, I aggressively pruned the sprawling shrub to allow the sun to shine on other plants.  It responded well to the pruning and became more attractive.  In fact, some currants grow better with regular pruning of older branches.  I also discovered the shrub spreads by rhizomes, sending up shoots in the neighborhood and forcing me to continually evaluate the size of my currant “patch.”

In our area, the Red currant is a more attractive and easier shrub to grow, but it appears to have no wildlife visitors – no pollinators and no one eating the berries.  Conversely, the native Golden currant, with its early flowers and little tart berries, has been humming with activity and loses berries every day.  For that reason, periodic pruning and keeping its spread in check is worth the effort, and watching both shrubs over the next few months to see who comes to visit will be quite interesting.

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

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Sharing my garden

by Vicky Barney
There’s something magical about seeing butterflies and hummingbirds feasting on flower nectar, or watching birds foraging for berries.  Observing a bear, moose, or deer browsing on aspen or berries is a real treat.  But when their browsing removes the flowers intended for pollinators or the berries for the birds, or when all the strawberries disappear from the carefully tended patch, the magic is gone. My “gardening for wildlife” strategy needs some work.

Butterfly visiting garden
My yard is surrounded by native shrubs and trees and was an attractive feature when purchasing the house several years ago.  I imagined watching wildlife pass through the yard from one wild space to the next, stopping to nibble aspen volunteers or newly planted native bushes. The plan was to create a place where wildlife would linger, preferably while I was watching.  Red-osier dogwood was planted (deer and elk’s “ice cream bush,” says Karen Vail in Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies), grassy spots were encouraged, and game trail openings were preserved.   Success!  Deer and moose have been observed, sometimes eating and resting for long periods.  Bears have also been observed munching on native berries just beyond the tended yard.

Recently, though, visitors have come through after dark, pruning flowers, pulling up newly planted pansies and devouring my small crop of strawberries covered by bird netting.  They are welcome but I prefer they browse along their path, the one lined with tasty native bushes and flowers.  The wildlife – deer, I presume - have other ideas.

Deer candy
But is it deer in the strawberry patch?  There is no evidence they have browsed there – no prints and no torn leaves.  In fact, the patch looks untouched except for the missing berries.  Early one morning I frightened a flock of birds and realized they are the culprits.  They have learned to pluck the berries out of the netting that deterred them last season, and they have a quick getaway now that the nearby bushes have grown.

The more worrisome browsers in my yard are the deer.  They consume pretty blossoms, leaving behind shorn branches and torn leaves.  To be sure there is enough forage left over for butterflies and birds, I need to make a few changes.

Garden Design - Small modifications in design may discourage undesirable behavior.  For example, cutting back the bushes near the strawberry patch – reducing the birds’ safety zone – may reduce bird activity.  Moving the pansy pots onto the patio may discourage browsing, but some wildlife may to take a liking to the patio.  Another option is to surround pansies and other “deer candy” with less palatable plants.
Sharing the garden
Plant Selection - If hungry enough, wildlife will eat any plant.  There are a number of attractive plants, though, that are rarely browsed.  They include tough xeric plants (black-eyed susans and purple coneflower), fragrant plants (lavender, thyme, and Russian sage), fuzzy plants (lambs ear and lady’s mantle), and spiny or bristly plants (oriental poppies, rugosa roses, and oregon grape).  See CSU Extension Fact Sheet # 6.520 – Preventing Deer Damage for more plant ideas.

Garden management - According to Ruth Rogers Clausen in 50 Beautiful Deer-Resistant Plants, gardeners should cut back on nitrogen fertilizer and water, ingredients for a lush and soft garden that deer prefer.  As the weather becomes dryer, deer also seek out moisture in newly watered plants, so irrigation should be timed such that plants are dry before dawn and dusk, times when most browsing occurs. 

Other ways to deter unwanted wildlife included the use of repellents and netting, but they are effective for only for brief periods of time.  Wind chimes and barking dogs may frighten off deer but will likely annoy the neighbors.  Of course, tall fencing is the best deterrent, but not suitable for my yard. 

With a few small changes in design, plant selection, and management, sharing my garden all season with all of nature may be possible. I hope so.

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

Thursday, August 2, 2018


Verbascum thapus (Common Mullein, noxious!)

by Cherie Luke
The genus Verbascum has some good garden plants and one noxious weed that should never be planted.  Verbascum thapus, also known as common mullein, is a member of the Scrophulariaceae, figwort family. Currently Verbascum thapus is on the “C” list of Noxious Weeds of Colorado.  This means it is already widespread throughout the state, and should at least be suppressed when possible. It is a biennial that reproduces by seed that can live up to 80 years. It is native to Asia but it is thought that it got here by way of Europe.

It has long furry leaves and a tall yellow flower stalk. It is well known among herbalists. Mullein tea is a treatment for respiratory problems such as asthma, bronchitis, and chest colds. Because it is a noxious weed, one can harvest unlimited quantities, but be sure that they have not been sprayed. The roots and seeds of this plant are toxic and should never be used for any reason.

Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Polarsommer’
Because of Verbascum’s  stately presence many people admire this plant. There  are about 300 species of Verbascum and some are considered “well behaved” in the home garden. There are some growing at Denver Botanic Gardens such as Verbascum bombyciferum ‘Polarsommer’, Arctic Summer Mullein.
Verbascum olympicum, Olympic Mullein
There was a Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ that I found for sale at the May, Denver Botanic Gardens plant sale this year in the “Grown at the Garden” section that is describes as being pastel shades of lavender, buff, cream, and rose. The plant tag says full sun, dry to medium well drained soil, drought tolerant, zone 5-8, so I'm giving it a try. 
Verbascum ‘Southern Charm’ 
With so many beautiful and stately Verbascum’s available, there may be one that is just right for your own garden – except for the noxious weed!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Paint my Garden Purple

by Vicky Barney
Unintentionally, my garden is a sea of purple flowers.  The flowers are blooming on a few natives and a non-native, all in shades of purple and all in bloom at the same time.  Before now, I would have thought that a garden of only purple flowers would be rather boring, but it is quite striking.

The wildflowers in bloom are Showy Daisy (Erigeron speciosus) and Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus).  A few Harebells (Campanula rotundifolia) are scattered about as well.  The non-native plant is the Clustered Bellflower (Campanula glomerata).  The last was a surprise; its roots were intermingled with clumps of daylilies from a friend’s garden.  All are perennials, all have been spreading for the past few years, and each complements the others in appearance.

Showy Daisy, also called Showy Fleabane or Aspen Daisy, grows from 1 to 3 feet tall and produces 1-10 small flowers that perch on top of each stem.  With yellow centers and numerous thin petals ranging in color from pink to blue to lavender, the flowers are a nice landing spot for a variety of insects including butterflies.  It thrives in moist areas and aspen groves in the Rocky Mountains, as well as in xeric gardens.  The native has naturalized in my garden, blooming in swaths of lavender in sunny and partly shady locations, and may rebloom if deadheaded, but I’ve not had firsthand experience yet.

Rocky Mountain Penstemon is another native that thrives in our area.  Like the Showy Daisy, it grows tall, is happy in both sun and part shade, is drought tolerant, and spreads easily.  It’s striking blue-purple tubular flowers bloom up sturdy stalks and are frequented by bees and hummingbirds.  It spreads by seed and now blankets several of my flowerbeds.

Harebell, the smallest of my purple bloomers, appears here and there in my garden and will continue to bloom all summer long.  It has blue-lavender bell shaped flowers on thin stems that grow to about a foot tall.  Native to the Northern Hemisphere, it is also called Bluebell.  It will grow in sunny and shady areas, in dry to moist conditions, and reseeds readily.  It sometimes surprises me with white blooms.

The non-native purple flower I’ve inadvertently planted is also a bluebell and is called Clustered Bellflower.  It is the showiest of the bunch, its stem growing up to 2 feet tall and the deep purple bell shaped flowers forming a colorful ball on top.  The Clustered Bellflower has found a welcome spot in my garden – a sunny location that was irrigated for a time for the naturalizing daylilies – and is spreading by rhizome among the daylilies and in the grass nearby.  The daylilies keep the heavy flower heads upright and appear to be keeping the invasive plant in check.  Although not native, the flowers are regularly perused by bees and other insects, and it continues to thrive in the sunny location with minimal irrigation.  Its flowers are suitable for cutting.

My purple garden has been delightful, tranquil yet humming with pollinator activity.  I will be sad to see it disappear.   Yet the process has begun, with the purple color fading and flowers in other colors starting to bloom.  In no time, though, with a little added water and more summer sunshine, my garden will take on a new identity with new colors and textures to enjoy.  It’s a wonderful time of year in the garden.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Planting that Birthday Tree

by Kurt M. Jones
Chaffee County Extension Director
Sitting here on my back porch, looking past the potted rosemary and basil, I can see my son’s birthday tree in the back corner.  Grandpa and Grandma bought us a birthday tree in celebration of our son’s first birthday.  With an extension agent son-in-law, I’d better have planted it correctly!

Planting a tree correctly actually starts with tree selection.  We purchased a Colorado Blue Spruce for a couple of reasons.  First was because of our son’s being enamored with our tree during the holidays last December.  Second, this tree fit into our landscape plans well.  Finally, it is one of Dad’s favorites.  I almost forgot, be sure to call for utility locates a minimum of 3 business days prior to digging.  It is a free service, and it is the law!  Simply call 811 to begin the process.
After looking at the available trees in the nursery, I chose one that had a couple of features that I was interested in.  First, I was looking for a tree that had good shape, and more importantly, one “leader” branch that was vertical.  I was also looking at the root ball for two items: ease of handling without a tractor, and the presence of stabilizing roots in the top 2 inches of the rooting soil.  Roots that are deeper in the ball or potted tree have the danger of being planted too deeply, lessening the chances of establishment or long-term survivability.  The tree that I chose was one that was potted (rather than ball-and-burlap) so that I could move it through our fence with a furniture moving hand cart.  Larger B&B tree stock often requires specialized equipment to move due to the weight and rounded shape.  One drawback of potted trees can be the lack of root ball as compared with the size of the tree, so extra care may be needed to establish a potted tree as compared with B&B trees of similar height.
Digging a largesaucer shaped hole
After getting the tree home, it is time to locate it and dig the hole.  We chose a location that will allow for mature size of the tree.  It is also relatively level, and it is in a location that we can regularly irrigate year-round.  Many of the tree problems that I have seen this year can be attributed to our dry fall and early winter, necessitating year-round irrigation once the tree is established and during tree establishment.
The hole that I dug was saucer-shaped.  I dug it 2 inches shallower than the height of the tree ball, and the edges were 3 times the diameter of the root ball.  Yes, a big hole.  Tree roots will grow primarily in the top 12 inches of soil (rather than developing “tap roots”) and spread laterally from the base of the tree.  The depth is dependant upon the available moisture and oxygen levels in the soil; too shallow and there is inadequate moisture, too deep and oxygen levels diminish. 
Why the saucer shape?  Researchers have found that in some cases, tree roots can turn upon themselves when faced with a vertical soil texture change (like those faced with the conventional tree holes with vertical sides taught years ago).  Saucer-shaped holes lessen the likelihood of tree roots turning on themselves, eventually girdling the tree as they mature.  Digging the hole larger has been shown to increase root biomass eight times over similar trees with holes dug to fit the root ball.
Planting a tree can be a family activity
After digging the hole, I removed the plastic container and the burlap that was also present.  Though burlap will eventually degrade, I did not want it wicking moisture away from the tree roots or interfering with root establishment until it degraded.  My preference is to remove as much foreign material (wire cages, burlap, strings, pots) as possible when planting trees.
When I got the tree upright in the hole, I began backfilling.  I did not use any amended soil in my backfill, instead I planted the tree in an amended location.  Tree roots spread laterally from the base, so amendment is best accomplished throughout the rooting zone, not just in the backfilled hole.  I also water-packed the backfilled hole, rather than tamping or stomping in the soil around the tree roots.  My purpose in digging a large hole was to avoid soil compaction, so I will avoid activities that contribute to soil compaction around the tree.
Growing evergreens
Finally, I drove some wooden stakes through the root ball into the undisturbed soil underneath to help stabilize the tree during periods of higher winds.  Because this is a special tree to our family, I wanted to use underground stabilization rather than straps, wire and T-posts to hold it in place.  If you choose to do wrapping around the tree to stabilize it, make sure you use straps designed for that purpose, and remove the stabilization materials after the tree is established (approximately 1 year later).  I had the unfortunate opportunity to see some established trees planted about 8 years ago that succumbed to the girdling effects of tree wraps (lengths of garden hose with wire inside).  I also mulched the entire area of disturbed soil to help hold moisture and reduce weed establishment.
Though I did not use any, many people believe that root stimulation hormones should be used.  Though research is conflicted about using root stimulator, it does not harm the tree and may help with speeding up root establishment.  One practice that should not be used is nitrogen-based fertilization.  The goal after transplanting trees is to establish tree roots rather than producing tree branch growth.  Nitrogen fertilization during the first growing season has been shown to reduce root growth.  Finally, I watered the tree ball and surrounding soil.
The simple act of planting a tree.  It is a practice that has many opinions, but for our family, planting a “First Birthday Tree” is a neat tradition that I was proud to be a part of.  For more information about tree planting or care, contact your extension agent or the Chaffee County Extension office at 719-539-6447 or visit us online at