Thursday, March 15, 2018

Get more for less when your work in your garden

by Kristina Hughes, Clear Creek County Master Gardener

Gardening can be hard work. How many times have you gotten consumed with a project and worked yourself to exhaustion? I’ve mentioned in my previous blogs that I work as a gardener and I can attest to the wear and tear on my body. I am always looking for ways make things easier and do tasks more efficiently. There are so many benefits to gardening efficiently: your body feels better, you can more work done, the work is more pleasant, you can get closer to the garden you want with less effort.

It so happens that there is whole field of study devoted to exactly this issue: ergonomics. The definition of ergonomics is ‘an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that people and things interact most efficiently and safely ‘ (Merriam-Webster). I had the opportunity to google ‘gardening ergonomics ‘ recently and found a bunch of information which I am excited to try out next season.

Resist the temptation to push limits. It’s so easy to say to yourself ‘I’ll just stretch a little farther to reach that plant’ or ‘I can squeeze a little harder to cut this one branch that’s too big for my pruner’. It doesn’t hurt in the moment (usually), but I try to remind myself that it will hurt later. It may feel easier in the moment to use the tool in your hand rather than stopping to get the bigger one, but tomorrow’s work will be harder because your body will have taken the extra strain. Take the long view and pace yourself.

Keep joints in alignment for the most power and the least strain. Research has shown that twisting your wrist can result in a loss of 25% of your power. Avoid reaching and other awkward positions.

Allow the tool to do the work. Sharp tools require less less effort (and do less damage to the plant). And choose the right tool for the task rather than forcing it.

Alternate tools and body positions to minimize strain. Consider using ambidextrous tools which can be switched between right and left sides of the body. I have started doing simple tasks like weeding with my non-dominant hand in order to distribute the workload across both sides of my body. And I am experimenting with ambidextrous pruners.

Consider modifying the handles and grips on your tools. Pistol-style grips are easier on your hands.

Here are some other resources which can help you customize for your situation:

Arthritis and Farming article from CO-Horts blog January 15, 2018

Excellent advice from physical therapist, organized by body part

Accessible Gardening flyer from West Virginia University

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Spiders gotcha crawlin’?

By Kurt Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

Most spiders are regarded as beneficial and should not be destroyed. Many people fear spiders because of stories or myths about them. Others object to spiders because of their habit of building webs in and around the home.

Spiders differ from insects in that they have eight legs rather than six and only two body regions instead of three. Some spiders spin a web while others do not.

Indoors, many spiders may be found in basements, crawl spaces and other areas where it is somewhat damp. Other spiders, however, prefer a drier situation and can be found in the upper corners of rooms, in attics or in floor vents.

Life Cycle

After mating, female spiders lay eggs in clusters called egg sacs. A few species lay their eggs in dark hiding areas and not in a silken sac.

Some female spiders guard their egg sacs; others carry the sacs with them. A female may          produce several egg sacs in her life. Eggs usually hatch into small spiders within three weeks.  Mating and egg laying can occur at any time of the year, depending upon species.

Are Spiders Dangerous?

Two species of spiders found in Colorado can be harmful to humans if they are bit.  The black widow spider and the brown recluse spider have poisonous bites. These two spiders are not aggressive and bites are uncommon. Their bites are rarely fatal but can cause serious illness.  Medical attention should be sought in the case of bites from these spiders.

Black Widow Spider

The black widow spider, Latrodectus hesperus, is common throughout Colorado. This spider can be found in undergrowth, under stones, in the openings to rodent burrows, in hollow trees or in any other kind of protected area. Around the home it may be found in garages, window wells, crawl spaces and occasionally in basements. It likes undisturbed areas in and behind objects.  Homes in new developments will be bothered for some time from natural populations in the area.

The female black widow is poisonous, while the male is not. The female is about 1 1/2 inches long. The body, excluding the legs, is about 1/2 inch, jet black or dark brown, and usually has red markings that can take the shape of an hourglass on the underside of the abdomen. The male is smaller with brown markings. The two sexes may be easily distinguished by their sizes and by the pattern of the red marks on the abdomen.

Brown Recluse Spider

The brown recluse spider, Loxosceles reclusa, is rare in Colorado. There are a number of other possible causes for symptoms similar to a bite from a brown recluse spider. In Colorado, these should be considered more likely than a brown recluse bite, given its rarity in our state. Specimens have been found and positively identified in the southeastern portion of the state. Brown recluse spiders occasionally have been brought into other parts of Colorado with household effects being moved in from other states where this spider is common. The brown recluse can live both indoors and outdoors, but in cooler climates it prefers to live in houses. It usually is found in bathrooms, bedrooms, closets, garages, basements and cellars.

The brown recluse spider is about 1/2 inch long, usually tan or buckskin, with long, dark brown legs and a violin-shaped dark mark immediately behind the eyes. The base of the violin mark is on the head with the violin neck pointing toward the abdomen. The brown recluse spider is the only spider with three pairs of eyes; all others have four pairs. It produces little webbing since it hunts its food.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Upcoming class- Seed Starting and Planning your Mountain Vegetable Garden

Seed Starting and Planning your Mountain Vegetable Garden Wednesday, March 14   6:30pm   Exhibit Barn (230 Norton Dr, Black Hawk, CO)   $5   
We will discuss how to start seeds so that they are ready to plant out when the weather warms, and how to pick varieties that are suitable for the mountains, as well as how to maximize your garden.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Selective Plant Shaping … An overview of Pruning and what it means to our gardens and varying plant groups

By Jan Boone
Image by Lewis Landscape Services, Inc.

Perhaps one of the most confusing things in our foothill’s garden work is also a key factor for our garden’s health and appearance, maybe even seasonal crop production.  When we look at the winter landscapes and think of the coming potential for our usual wet Spring snows and cold damage to pines, fruit trees or shrubs, we mustn’t forget that selective pruning may come in different ways throughout the cycles of our growing seasons.  Before you or I feel the urge to pull out hand saws, clippers or just our own nimble fingers, it’s beneficial to our plants and ourselves to review some plants and re-visit some basic techniques. Enhancing our know-how or simply modifying past favorite methods when it comes to shaping our plant landscapes can produce new and often valuable results.

Pruning really is a valued practice in our gardens.  The Valerian shrubs on my hillside and Nepeta (catnip family) plants along the driveway immediately come to mind.  Of course, the deer and elk often help w/the Valerian shaping but the Nepeta really has few worries, except for the occasional odd browsing by critters.  Alas, my cotoneaster is a frequent victim of browsing damage, so a good trim is usually called for after a hungry herd wanders through the yard! I have watched with amazement over the past few years a small white lilac that blooms along a dirt roadside near a house that has had infrequent work going on inside.  I’m amazed how it survives to bloom with only filtered light in pretty basic soils and absolutely no care pre or post bloom.  It must have resilient roots way down deep!  Many of our local houses enjoy spirea, viburnum or lilacs in their yards, especially as they produce their Spring branches filled with blossoms.  I’ve lost track of the times I get asked when is the best time to shape or prune these plants!  One of the best references I can share is CSUExtension Garden Notes #619 on Pruning Flowering Shrubs.  It includes shaping, shearing and thinning tips for these plant varieties.

Here’s a good list of reasons for pruning:  Help in allowing a plant to heal from weather related damage, also insect or general structural damage; to train plants or trees to enrich a habitat and/or to control size (i.e. clearing out plant suckers or squash runners); to prevent injury to people or from insects.  It is often helpful for the container and vegetable gardeners to prune, thus promoting flowering and fruit production.  Whether it is a diseased fir limb or an ignored fruit tree with erratic production; or even plants and vines in the vegetable garden, there will come the time you will want to consider pruning. 

Photo by

When to prune may be the definitive question for every gardener.  Timing requires focused attention and expertise.  Sometimes by learning what doesn’t work on a favorite blooming plant or tree can reinforce what should have been done in a different manner or time frame!!  Don’t take the chance and instead refer to a good seasonal overview for pruning in Cornell University’s CooperativeExtension, Bulletin #23 An illustrated Guide to Pruning Trees and Woody Shrubs, page 27.  It provides a reasonable outline that you can monitor and adjust to your own garden and microclimate needs, also considering our altitude and quirky weather patterns.  For another good resource on pruning of fruit bearing trees.  Review CSU Fact Sheet#7.003 on Training and Pruning Fruit Trees.  There are also good CSU Fact Sheets on Aspens.   You should visit  For Aspens, remember that dressing pruning cuts, cankers or wounds usually only provides safe harbors for the potential of insect and abiotic growth.

When thinking ahead to our upcoming spring & summer growing seasons for flowers and vegetables, knowing how to prune affords several options in productive methods These also apply to containers and ground plantings. Consider this … Do you recollect the differences in deadheading and pinching as opposed to utilizing a tool to cut??  Deadheading rids a plant of it’s spent flowers.  This has aesthetic appeal as well as the benefit of increasing blooms and potential fruiting. Many experts consider deadheading most effective in herbaceous annuals, encouraging renewed flowering for blossoms and may impact eventual fruit formation in differing varieties.  Deadheading also takes away dead tissue that can harbor insects or other abiotic diseases.  It also prevents a flower from setting seed.  Perennials that flower don’t rely on seed production, so the practice is not a good option.  Pinching is used to modify growing tips of herbaceous plants.   It’s often a go-to method in the vegetable garden to encourage additional fruit bearing branches. By removing the tips of branches, chemicals in the plant’s stem are activated to grow added shoots or branches, thus promoting a fuller appearance. 
Photo by Tractor Supply

For those striving for the elusive and ultimate heirloom tomato, pruning awareness is essential. In determinate tomato varieties, getting rid of suckers from the bottom of the main stem (which is reproductive) helps to open up the plant, making it fuller and more adaptive to additional growth. With indeterminate tomato varieties, prune up to the second flowering branch.  The stem is non-reproductive.  Finally, as you consider pruning, know the fundamental characteristics of your plant type.  Removing damaged or spent tree limbs is far different from encouraging tomato growth.  Do good research and be aware how microclimates and wildlife around your garden may impact the results of your efforts.

We cannot overlook the right tool for the right pruning job.  Pole and pruning saws are obviously of little help in your vegetable beds, but the correct hand clipper can save hours of frustration.  This is true when working on your ornamentals as well.  Last season’s Russian Sage flowering stalks will disappear quickly into the compost pile!  If you are using a pole, hand saw or other tool to work on a diseased tree or woody trunk of a large ornamental, disinfection of the tool afterwards is important.  Did you know that pruning cuts made at the peak of the growing season will normally carry a higher risk of transferring plant pathogens? Fire Blight is easily transmitted on dirty tools.   Research, clean and read labels carefully for your garden tool disinfecting.  Homemade remedies mixed with water can inadvertently do more damage than good.  Remember, manufacturers change ingredients, so check those labels.    Bleach solutions to disinfect may be preferable for many, but it will be corrosive on most metals. Research also shows the use of Isopropyl alcohol (70%) will not kill all bacteria.

A Good plant worth growing for enjoyment or food is also reliant on good soils, water and added supplements where warranted.  Take a look at potential candidates to prune now, as winter is here and branches are bare, then again as the seasons progress.  Your end result of selective plant shaping can optimize strength, form, aesthetics and crop output.  Enjoy the results of your thoughtful work this growing season!

Post-holiday Bulb Care

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension Gilpin County

The holidays are behind us, 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 rebloom 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!

 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.

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 potbound (crowded roots). They require repotting only every 3 or 4 years. The best time to repot them is after they have gone through a dormant period in the fall.