Thursday, February 15, 2018

Baking and Cooking in the Garden

By Kurt M. Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

I was at a conference recently and was visiting with some colleagues from across the Western United States.  The conversation came around to how baking, cooking and gardening all relate to one another.  It was an interesting analogy that I will attempt to recreate for you here.

If you think about it for a while, you realize that for many of us, Baking is a prescriptive activity.  You find a recipe that you like, maybe tweak it for high altitude adjustment, but then you follow the directions and let the science of chemistry and physics turn into delectable treats.  Gardening has similar attributes.  You pick plants that will work in our growing environment, arrange them according to their irrigation needs (what we call “hydrozoning”), and provide plant care including proper irrigation, proper plant nutrition to minimize stress, and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques when problems appear.  Even our current Master Gardener textbook is entitled The Science of Gardening, and employs many of these concepts for those students.

I have to admit, I may be addicted to cooking shows.  I find it fun to see cooks sweat it out when presented with a basket of mystery ingredients and they need to create a meal from unusual ingredients.  They are judged on taste, creativity in how they use the basket ingredients, and cooking technique.  In other words, they are skilled in the art of cooking based on their understanding of the base ingredients and cooking techniques. 

Gardening definitely has an artistic component as well.  Landscape Architects utilize design concepts such as line, color, texture, form, unity, scale, balance, simplicity, variety, emphasis and sequence when creating themes for the outdoor “rooms” they create.  They create rooms by considering the plants that make up the floor, walls, and ceilings in the outdoor spaces based on a family’s desires for that space, and the potential of the site where the landscape will be located.  Plant selection and placement in the landscape is much more about its “fit” into the total picture, rather than the “pick and plunk” method that many of us employ.

Much like how the creative cook utilizes different spices and herbs to elicit different sensations on the palate, the artistic gardener utilizes plant materials and other garden elements to create different emotions for those who experience it.  Understanding the science behind how to grow appropriate plants successfully and keep them healthy is much like the baker who utilizes the science to create delicacies which compliment the gourmet meal. 

It is about time for lunch, so here ends the analogy between baking, cooking and gardening.  Happy Gardening, Cooking and Baking!

Thursday, February 8, 2018


By Sharon Faircloth, Master Gardener

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.

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.

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:

Thursday, February 1, 2018


By Cherie Luke

Sunflowers, an annual, are one of the easiest plants to grow. The botanical
name for sunflowers is Helianthus, helios meaning sun and anthus
meaning flower. They are part of the asteraceae family and are native to
North America. They have a habit of turning their heads to face the sun,
usually facing east when their flowers open.

Although gardeners in general love to grow the tallest and biggest
sunflowers, there are many varieties that are beautiful and fit nicely into
almost any garden setting. Sunflowers can be grown in colors besides
yellow and gold. You can find seeds at your local garden center in bronze,
purple, orange, and red, and in varying heights. At one seed catalog I
visited there were 42 sunflower choices.

Farmers in the U.S. started growing sunflowers commercially after WWII
because of their many uses. The commercial crop consists of two types of
seeds; confection and oilseeds. The confection seeds are used in baked
goods, trail mixes, granola, and cereal. Oilseeds produce a citron-yellow
oil pressed from the seeds which is low in saturated fat and high in
polyunsaturated fats. It’s an ingredient in magazines, soaps, cosmetics,
and is also marketed as wild bird food.

Plant seeds after all danger of frost is past and chose a site in full sun.
While the sunflower is not particularly fussy about soil type it does
appreciate a well drained, loose loam soil.
The easiest way to prepare sunflower seeds for snacking is by roasting
them whole. Begin by soaking unhulled seeds in water for 8 hours. Drain
the water, spread the seeds on a shallow baking sheet, and roast at 200
degrees Fahrenheit for 3 hours, stirring occasionally until crisp.
Be sure to include one of the many varieties of sunflowers in your garden
this year, you’ll be happy you did. Not only are they fun to grow, the birds,
bees, and other pollinators will love them.

You can find more information about sunflowers at Planttalk Colorado

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Post-Season Poinsettia Care

by Kurt M. Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

            The holidays are behind us, but that doesn’t mean that you need to discard your poinsettias!  Poinsettias often lose their color in late winter, usually by mid-March.  When the plant has passed its stage of usefulness in March or April, remove the colorful bracts and part of the stem.  This cutting back can be done any time from March through mid-July, depending on the desirable size and shape of the plant.  Be sure to leave three or four leaves on each stem to insure sufficient photosynthesis.

           During the early summer, the plant will need to be repotted into the next larger size pot.  Use a well-drained potting soil, such as a blend of sphagnum peat moss, vermiculite and/or perlite.  Thoroughly mixing a phosphate fertilizer with the soil at the time of repotting is a common practice.

           Place the poinsettia in a bright area where the temperature will remain constant.  Water as needed to keep the soil moist to the touch, and fertilize with a complete fertilizer every two to three weeks.  During the summer, the plant can go outside provided it is partially shaded and temperatures don’t fall below 55 degrees F.   To keep the plant well-formed, trim tall growth at six-week intervals.  The last pruning should occur in late August. 
          Poinsettias are short-day photoperiodic plants.  This means that they set buds and produce flowers as the autumn nights lengthen, blooming naturally during November or December.  To flower and develop colored bracts, a poinsettia must receive as much sunshine as possible during the day.  Starting about October 1st, it also needs at least 14 hours of uninterrupted darkness each night at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees F.  Stray light of any kind such as street lights, pool lights or lamps could delay or halt the reflowering process.  Keep this dark treatment until color shows in the bracts.  This normally happens near Thanksgiving, but could happen as early as two weeks before Thanksgiving.  Continue watering and fertilizing to encourage good growth.

           There are many pests that can infest poinsettias.  Insects should be washed off with a mild soap solution using a sponge or spray bottle.  Mealybugs and whiteflies may require a pesticide treatment or removal of infested plant parts.  Mealybugs can be treated using rubbing alcohol and cotton swabs.
         Cool, moist soil temperatures encourage root diseases.  If lower leaves start turning yellow and fall off, a root rot condition may be present.  This can be overcome by using a fungicide as a soil drench.
       One common misconception with poinsettias is the fear they are poisonous.  In a 1995 poll, 2 out of every 3 people held the false impression that poinsettia plants are toxic if eaten.  Research conducted at Ohio State University showed that rats fed unusually high doses of poinsettia plant parts were not adversely affected.  To equal this experiment, a 50-pound child would have to eat more than 500 poinsettia bracts.  Based on this research, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission denied a 1975 petition to label poinsettias as dangerous.  Poinsettias are not edible and are not intended to be eaten.  If eaten, parts of all plants may cause varying degrees of discomfort, but usually not death.  Keep all plants out of the reach of small children.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Aphids On My Honeysuckles!

Aphids On My Honeysuckles!

by Kristina Hughes, Clear Creek County Master Gardener

I’m writing this blog partly as a reminder to myself to attend to a problem I first noticed last growing season but whose best treatment is applied during the winter. Now would be a good time to deal with it.

I have several honeysuckle shrubs on my property. They are one of the few types of shrubs I can grow which don’t get savaged by the animals and don’t require extra water. I have been hugely pleased with them.

Photo by Kristina Hughes
This past summer, I noticed that the honeysuckle leaves looked odd: small, purplish and rolled length-wise, growing in tight little clusters as if the leaves had never fully expanded. From a distance the leaf clusters on the branches looked like they were covered in flecks of black and white dirt. When I looked more closely, I saw tiny white flecks and tiny green bugs, LOTS of them, all over both the outside and inside of the rolled up leaves.

I knew they were aphids because the tiny white flecks are discarded carcasses, like snake skins, which they shed as they grow bigger. And on the rear-ends of the living, green bugs there were little “tailpipes”, like two stubby tails.

Once I identified the bug as an aphid, I looked for information by googling ‘honeysuckle aphids’. The first part of the search doesn’t require explanation. The second part, “”, may be unfamiliar. It instructs Google to limit results to websites that end in “.edu”. I like to use this search-refining tool to get straight to the university-based information which forms the basis of the Master Gardener program.

W Cranshaw, CSU,
I immediately found web resources that described my problem exactly. The new growth on my honeysuckles had been attacked by a honeysuckle leaf-folding aphid, scientific name Hyadaphis tataricae. It’s also called honeysuckle witches’ broom aphid. Aphids are very common and usually don’t cause extensive damage to their host plant. They are a favorite food of many birds and predatory insects, which often keep the aphid populations at a reasonable level without human intervention. And if aphids get a little out of hand, they are easily knocked off the plant with a strong stream of water from a garden hose. Worst case scenario, one might choose to use an insecticidal soap which kills the aphids on contact. Aphids prefer sucking on new tender plant growth, so anything that stimulates new growth (such as cutting off the damaged areas) should be avoided. Pretty simple, right?

Unfortunately, I learned from a University of Wisconsin factsheet that the honeysuckle leaf-folding aphid has an adaptation which makes it more challenging to control. It sucks on the top side of emerging leaves and this causes the leaves to curl upward, thus enclosing the aphids and protecting them from the above-listed control measures. Predators can’t get to them easily because they are rolled up in their protective leaf. Strong sprays of water don’t easily dislodge them. Insecticidal sprays which kill on contact can’t reach the insects through the rolled up leaf. So these little aphids are especially tough to get rid of. Their saliva stunts the new growth of the infested plant and this can cause a decline in the vigor the plant. And several years of heavy infestation can kill the plant. I’m normally not very concerned when I find some aphids on my plants, because they are usually so easy to control, but these aphids seem to be different!

W Cranshaw, CSU,
Apparently, these aphids lay eggs which overwinter on the tips of the branches and in the curled up leaves. So, one strategy for control is to trim the branches to 6” below any obvious distorted growth during winter and remove any leaves. Horticultural oil is also recommended to control leaf-curling aphids. Horticultural oil is applied during the dormant season (winter) before bud break, but when the temperature is above 40F. These are the steps I am reminding myself to do soon.

Another strategy is to watch carefully for bud break in the spring and spray contact insecticides on the new growth before the aphids cause the leaves to curl up. So I’ll have to set another reminder for that step.

I am glad I noticed the problem and then found information that seems to match the issues, so I can take targeted, effective steps to solve it. I really value my honeysuckles, especially since I have limited choice of plants which can thrive on my property in spite of the animals and the never-dull climate here in the mountains. I think I have my work cut out for me!