Friday, June 21, 2019


by Ginger Baer
A new study shows 41 percent of insect species have seen steep declines in the past decade, with similar drops forecast for the near future. It is estimated that 40 percent of the 30 million or so insect species on earth are now threatened with extinction. The causes are not surprising, and have all been on the radar for decades. Deforestation, agricultural expansion and human sprawl top the list. The wide use of pesticides and fertilizer as well as industrial pollution are also taking massive tolls. Invasive species, pathogens and climate change are also getting punches in.[1]

‘Why is this such a big deal?’ you might ask, ‘I don’t need pesky mosquitoes all over me’… ‘Who needs those ants anyways?’… ‘Besides, those bugs are making a mess out of my garden. They make holes in my flowers’ leaves, and they mess with my lettuce and make it look really ugly.’

Ladybug devouring aphids
Ecosystems can’t function without the millions of insects that make up the base of the food chain.  We need those insects to pollinate our food chain. They are the sole food source for many amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Many insects are predatory or parasitic, either on plants or on other insects or animals, including people. Such insects are important in nature to help keep pest populations (insects or weeds) at a tolerable level. [2]

Birds need insects to fledge their chicks. Per Doug Tallamy (Bringing Nature Home) it takes 6,000 - 9,000 caterpillars to rear one clutch of chickadees.  Even hummingbirds need insects to feed their clutches.  They will eat upwards of 2,000 insects per day.

Hummingbird chooses bug over nectar
Bird populations have decreased 50-80% in the past few decades. Two groups of birds have been especially affected: grasslands species, which have been hurt by the conversion of their habitat into farmland, and insect eaters such as swallows and flycatchers, whose decline is less obvious but may be a result of falling insect populations.[3]

“So, what does this have to do with me? What can I do?” Plenty!  First of all, DON’T SQUASH THAT BUG! Next, take stock of what it is that you are planting in your garden. Native plants will support native bugs which will in turn support native birds. Ideally our gardens should have about 70% native plants in them. Flowers, bushes and trees that are native will support the native insect population.  Do you have holes in your plants’ leaves? Celebrate! You know that you have a plant that will support a local insect, that will in turn support a local bird.

Are you inclined to clean up your garden in the fall when everything is turning brown and dying back? Please don’t clean up yet.  Leave your plant material as it is until the spring. In doing this you will be leaving the seeds for the birds, areas of protection for the insects, and perhaps some structural interest in the bleak landscapes of the winter.

Healthy holey leaf
CSU Extension has a great FREE publication listing native plants for gardens above 7500’.

Some of my favorites that I grow at 8,600’ are: Rocky Mountain Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea), Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa), Catmint (Nepeta faassenii), Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) and Wax Currant (Ribes cereum).

Remember, NO insects = NO birds, NO fruits and vegetables and NO HUMANS.


Monday, June 17, 2019

2019 Parade of Spring Flowers

by Vicky Barney

After the long winter, flowers are a welcome sight. The parade of blooming flowers in Routt County started in mid-April with a few native blooming wildflowers, then a variety of bulbs, continuing with flowering shrubs and fruit trees.  The view down Lincoln Avenue with crabapple trees in bloom is spectacular!

Spring blooming bulbs in my garden have put on quite a show as well, thanks to a previous owner.  Appearing first were native glacier lilies and pretty blue glory-of-the-snow, then crocus.  Next came the daffodils, along with grape hyacinth.  Last to appear were the tulips.  Miraculously, the tall tulips have remained largely intact, overlooked by hungry moose and impervious to more than one snowstorm. 

Seeing color in the landscape as the snow melts is a cheerful sight. CSU Extension Fact Sheet No. 7.410 Fall-Planted Bulbs and Corms ( , provides instruction on how to select and plant bulbs. It also reminds gardeners to remove the withered flowers but do NOT cut the foliage until it completely dies back.  Until then, photosynthesis continues and energy is stored in the bulb for next season.

Bulbs are easy to plant but have a couple of requirements that might be tough for the Routt County gardener.  First, the bulbs must not be eaten by critters. Mice, squirrels, chipmunks, voles, and pocket gophers will happily make a meal of certain bulbs.  In some parts of the county, gardeners will have no success growing tulips or crocus and will have better luck with less tasty daffodils, alliums and hyacinths.  If the bulbs survive, though, they may not actually bloom. Moose have been known to eat the tulip buds in my neighbor’s yard, leaving beds of healthy but flowerless plants.  Other critters enjoy the buds as well.

I get tripped up by the requirement that spring blooming bulbs must be planted in the fall. At that time of the year, my love of gardening is waning, the open spots for bulbs have disappeared beneath the foliage of other plants, and digging is harder. But I have a plan: 1) Take photos now of the available spots.  2) Have Fact Sheet No. 7.410 ready to follow and calendars marked for September planting.  3) Cross fingers the neighborhood critters will not eat the bulbs or buds. 

Fortunately, if our efforts fail, we can count on Nature to provide next year’s Parade of Spring Flowers.

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

Friday, June 7, 2019

Growing Ornamental Grasses at Altitude

by Susan Scott
Gardeners in Steamboat are amazing! They deal with high altitude, cold temperatures, and most of all, very dry summers. I love to garden, but when the heat of summer arrives, I prefer to have really easy plants because I can’t find the time to tend the garden and I don’t have automatic sprinklers.

I have found several perennial ornamental grasses that are a great fit for Steamboat. They are very low maintenance: cold hardy; drought tolerant; will grow in sun or shade; deer resistant; pest and disease free; and, mostly tolerant of poor soil. The area I have placed them only receives approximately 4 hours of sun each day in summer. (Hint: more sun, more water yields bigger plants!)

I began with the tall, showy feather reed grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora “Karl Foerster”). It grows around 4’ tall with a reddish brown stalk in the spring, the tops feathering out with a beautiful golden wheat color. It provides a lovely backdrop that can “hide” objects like the electric meters, etc.

Next I found a Strawberries and Cream ribbon grass, or reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) with white and green stripes and shades of pink throughout. It grows in big bunches approximately 2’ tall.
Ornamental Grasses Photo by Susan

I found lots of Blue Oat Grass (also called Blue Avena, Helictotrichon sempervirens) in the area, which is about 1’ tall and thick and bushy.

One of the staples of grasses grown locally is Elijah Blue Fescue (Festuca glauca) which has an attractive blue color and grows in low clumps that are good for edges.

I filled in with Japanese Blood Grass (Imperata cylindrica “Red Baron”) that has a cranberry red color and Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis) to add color and variety.  

These grasses are fast growing, very hardy, and easy to establish.   The first year I mulched to keep down any weeds, but now that they have spread out, there is no room for weeds! I have added some more color with Catmint (Nepeta) because that is another perennial that takes very little care. Some of these grasses are considered invasive in other parts of the country, but here, they stay smaller because of the extreme climate.

Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), a sun lover, is another popular grass (designated Colorado’s state grass) and Purple Fountain Grass (Pennisetum setaceum “Rubrum”), an annual, grows around town.  Neither of these would work for me. I do minimal maintenance with my ornamental grasses. I only water once every two weeks (if that!) and cut them back before the first snow. Some people like to keep them tall until spring but I find that we have so much snow that it’s easier to cut them back in the fall. And that’s it! Enjoy the compliments of your visitors as they admire your handiwork!

Susan Scott was a Master Gardener in St. Louis at the Missouri Botanical Garden for several years before moving to Steamboat, where she volunteers with the local gardeners. 

Monday, June 3, 2019


by Yvette Henson
CSU Extension, San Miguel Basin

As we know, summers in our mountains are short but glorious!  If the snow ever melts this summer, the wildflower display should be one of the best ever! Go hiking and/or take a Native Plant Class!  CSU Extension offers a variety of classes across the state as does the Colorado Native Plant Society.  Be on the lookout for those and other native plant classes and field trips near you!

I am planning on spending as much time as I can in the mountains this summer and I hope to see some new things as well as old-favorites! 

A plant I search out every year on my property at 8,400’ is stemless Easter daisy, Townsendia exscapa.   It is blooming now. 
Easter Daisy- photo by Yvette Henson

A wildflower that I look for in late May is Erigeron compositus.  I look for it growing on the shelfs of rock cliffs in a canyon near Rico at about 9,000’. 
Erigeron photo by Yvette Henson
Who isn’t delighted to stumble across a fairy-slipper orchid, Calypso bulbosa, growing in the deep shade of the subalpine forest? 
Fairy slipper photo by Yvette Henson
I am fascinated by the variety of paintbrushes (Castilleja spp.) that grow in Colorado, especially the ones that can be found growing above timberline in August!
Paintbrush photo by Yvette Henson
Another beautiful plant that is blooming above timberline in late August, after the frosts have begun to kill the majority of other blooms, is Gentiana algida, arctic gentian.
Gentian photo by Yvette Henson
Don’t let summer get away from you this year—get out and hike in our wonderful mountains and revel in the beauty of the views, the singing creeks and waterfalls and of course the wildflowers!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Tired of Waiting! Instant Garden! Container Plants!

by Lorrie Redman
In the mountains, we always have to wait for the snow to clear, soil to warm up, and frost to end.  I admit I am impatient and always have to find ways to garden before these events occur.  I overcome my frustration by growing seedlings, potting Christmas bulbs, nurturing micro greens, and watering houseplants.

Come May though, I can’t control my need to garden and I want an instant garden.  My solution is container planting.  I can design, shop, plant and enjoy my mini gardens all in one day. 

My three favorite mini gardens are shade containers, perennial containers, and herb containers.
Container garden by Lorrie Redman
      Shade Containers add lots of color to problem areas that are hard to grow annuals in. I can add a container under a tree and bring interest and height in those spots that nothing else grows.  Plants I like to use are begonias, coleus and, impatiens.  There are so many new varieties to choose from and they have similar water and sun needs.

      Perennial Containers are wonderful because you get more for your money. You can enjoy them on your deck or patio all summer and then replant them into your regular garden in the fall.  Plants I love to combine are salvias, rudbeckias, yarrows and lavenders.  

      Herb Containers are edible and fragrant additions to your living space.  Who doesn’t love to cook your favorite pasta sauce and grab a few basil leaves for flavor or chop up cilantro into your homemade salsa?  With herbs, I love to use one herb per pot so I can control my plants watering needs.  Then I group the containers together for a variety of textures and heights. 

Container gardens do have some special considerations to think about before you plant.  They include:
Perennial garden photo by Lorrie Redman
Choosing a Container:
    Any container can be used but it must have good drainage and drainage holes so your plants do not become waterlogged.
    If choosing edible plants make sure the container is not made with toxic materials. 
    Porous materials such as clay and wood need to be watered more often than non-porous materials like ceramic, plastic, and metal containers.  Porous materials do offer more air circulation into the root zone. 

    Choose soil mixes that are free of insects, disease and weed seeds. It is recommended that you change out your soil yearly.
    Native soils are not recommended since they compact easily and prevent oxygen from getting to the root systems.
    Soil mixes vs soilless mixes tend to have some of the same ingredients but soilless mixes tend to be lighter. Research your plants to determine which medium is better for your choice of plants.
 Watering and Fertilizing:
    These are problem areas for containers. Container do require more watering and fertilizing than your regular gardens. 
    Containers tend to lose moisture faster since they are above ground and the number of plants in such a small space increases the need for more regular fertilization.
    Letting your pots dry out completely is not recommended since the finer roots will die and your plants will suffer.
    Even if you add slow release fertilizers to your soil mix it is recommended in Colorado to use additional soluble fertilizers to feed your plants.
    With increased watering and fertilizing good drainage is also necessary to reduce salt build up from added fertilizers.  Recommendations include draining your saucers often and having containers that accommodate the root depth of your plants.  

Now go out and create your own instant garden!

For additional information about container gardening, check out the CSU Extension Fact Sheet Container Gardens.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Succulents and Cacti at Altitude

By Jan Boone
Many of us have a quiet sunny corner in a room where favorite winter houseguests have camped out for the past 5 months or so.  These are the best kind of guests because all they require is sun, occasional water and loving words as we pass by.  As much as we enjoy their presence in that sunny corner, it’s getting time to consider who can maybe return to outside decks, who needs a new container and who is tolerant enough to be planted outside in the sun.  Succulents provide diversity in colors, shapes and textures in our gardens and decks.
Photo by Jan Boone
Whether inside or outside, start with the premise that for the most part succulents & cacti demand attention to 3 fundamental basics in order to survive our high, cold and dry growing zones. These include light (depending upon varieties, at least 4 hours of direct sun and afternoon shade); soil to promote drainage since soggy roots simply produce root rot or fungus; and lastly, water.  While many cultivars are drought resistant perennials, it’s important to know plant water needs may require a more selective approach, especially when planting adjacent to one another. Watch to see what your plants tolerate. Succulents store their water in their fleshy leaves or stems and we all know when the temperature drops, those leaves may freeze and the plant is damaged or killed.  

A fourth area of consideration is the more common type of insect infestations you may discover before you start shifting containers or planting for the summer season.  These can include mealy bugs, whitefly, scale, aphids and some mites.  Inspect your plants closely.

Whether in smaller terrariums or larger outside settings, cacti are most selective about their clay soils, good drainage and limited watering needs.  Ball and barrel shapes may add diversity to your decks or rock gardens but winter protection is essential so containerizing these may be a safe bet. 

Perhaps you’ve hosted some of these visitors during winter months:

Jade plant Crassula ovata. Mine is a cutting from my mother’s immense container plant that lived on a balcony in direct afternoon sun in California for years.  Originally part of a diverse plant genus from Africa, the Jade plant has undergone a variety of scientific classification name changes.  This is a popular indoor only houseplant that can thrive on neglect!  My only issue is susceptibility to mealy bug.  At least once a year I find myself gently cleaning leaves w/q-tips, alcohol and soapy water.  These varieties are popular in small terrarium size plants or as large container plants. It does bloom, but more frequently in larger mass plantings. They will not overwinter outside at our altitude but may be content with an occasional secluded warm afternoon on an outside deck. Water is stored in the leaves, stem and roots.  Roots can do well in compact container settings.

Aloe pup 
Aloe Vera Aloe barbadensis.  Aloe is a good specimen to have in a container for the dramatic leaves as well as for its medicinal qualities.  Break a leaf spike off and you’ll find a gel good for burns and minor cuts.  Because I ignored this plant for quite a while, other than occasional watering, I learned what plant pups are!  Like many succulents, this plant reproduces by growing ‘pups’ from a main root. (Also referred to as offsets, or root portions that develop leaves and sprout a new plant).  Break pups off carefully, soak for 24 hours prior to re-potting and you have a new plant.           

Hens and Chicks Easily one of the most popular of so many colorful and unique Sempervivums.  Check the cultivar for hardiness.  Good in containers as well as planted in the right site.

Snake Plant Sansevierra trifasciata Popular as the Snake Plant or Mother-In-Law’s tongue among interior plant circles, but it is actual a succulent from Africa and Madagascar.  It’s low-light and easy maintenance needs are alluring.  Caution … this is a plant not meant for outdoor containers or use.  It’s perfect for an indoor succulent specimen.

Sansevierra pup
Pencil Cactus Euphorbiaceae tirucalli This is one of the first and more unique succulents I learned about upon moving to Colorado.  It is not an actual cactus despite the name, but a true succulent.  It is part of the Euphorbia family.  Members of this family can be annual, perennial, evergreen, shrub-like in gardens or even tree-like.  My initial encounter was a unique 5’ tall interior specimen.  Years later, I still like the vertical, simple nature of the plant and have a 6” high specimen in a terrarium bowl.   A characteristic this family all shares is the milky white sap that can irritate or be toxic to people and animals.  If you’re taking cuttings for propagation, wear gloves and don’t go near your eyes while handling anything w/sap.  There are more varieties that can be planted in outside beds in warmer zones, but not for our cold.  Keep in mind this family includes spurge varieties and even poinsettias!

Pencil cactus container growth
Stone succulent
Stone Plant Lithops marmorata I’ve always thought these small, funny ‘living stone’ succulents looked intriguing.  I became more interested by these as I’d pass large trays of 2” pots for sale at box store garden centers. From South Africa originally, they grow to mimic the rocks and dry environment they grow among. They will test the most determined grower!  Sometimes they split, sometimes they bloom and sometimes they just die!  I’ve discovered The Denver Botanic Gardens has a bed of them in their Steppes gardens to promote education about the threatened Steppes regions around the world.  The stems and roots are underground, while large rounded   leaves store water.  These are highly sensitive to cold and water, so require protection in winter months the payoff is the interesting addition to a xeric or rock garden space in your yard.  Leave them alone and they’re happy when dry and warm.

These are just a few of my winter houseguests, but as I pass through garden centers now, I think perhaps I need to add a few new varieties to my deck containers this coming season.  A great reference tool for anyone interested in succulents or cacti  is Hardy Succulents by Gwen Moore Kelaidis, Storey Publishing, 2005. Currently it seems everyone is selling containers filled with multi-colored varying succulents, so it’s good to know what can work for your own house and garden environment.  Enjoy the fun!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Cool vs. Warm Season Vegetables

by Susan Carter, Horticulture Area, CSU Ext. Tri River Area
With the sun shining, birds chirping and moisture in the ground this year, many of us are eager to jump into the garden.  There are several good things to think about before you just go ahead and plant.  Living in the mountains can have its challenges.  Did you know for every 400’ higher in elevation that you lose the number of growing days?  However, other factors can determine your frost-free days.  When I lived in Silverthorne CO, 8730’, we had many cold mornings.  Silverthorne is in the Valley with the Blue River running thru town.  Cold air sinks and follows rivers.  Leadville’s elevation, which is 10,151’ but is a high flat area where cold can drain off to lower elevations.  Leadville has 87 frost-free days and Silverthorne has about 60 growing days.  Is it good to know your average last day of frost: 

I now live in Fruita and since it is lower in the Valley, it can be a good 10 degrees colder than Palisade.  This is why most of the fruit and vineyards are in Palisade and why crops like hay and wheat and some vegetables are further down the valley.  Fruita can have a 32-degree frost around Mother’s Day where Palisade can have its last frost date 3 weeks earlier.
CSU Dept. of Atmospheric Science image
For mountain gardens, cool season vegetables are your best bet.  Leafy greens like lettuce, kale and spinach work well.   Broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers and many root crops like beets and onions are also great cool season crops.  So why aren’t warm season crops like tomatoes, peppers and squash a good choice?  Well, many of these warm season crops need night temperatures of at least 50 degrees and days up to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Moreover, I am not just talking air temperature.  These plants prefer soil temperatures of at least 60 degrees.  Even at lower elevations, these plants are planted too early in the season will suffer from that cold stress and are prone to developing viruses and not thriving. 

On a smaller scale, you can use microclimates around your house to allow for a longer growing season.  There are methods of season extension that you can use such as frost blankets, walls of water, cold frames, plastic mulches and low or high tunnels formerly called hoop houses.  Being a plant geek, I had to experiment and try plants at high elevation.  My husband would laugh at my attempt every year to grow tomatoes.  I would plant them in dark pots, in mostly sunshine and place them against our homes wall under the overhang to get extra warmth and protection from the frost and cold.  I purchased Siberian tomatoes, which only need 55-60 growing days to develop.  Now growing days does not include seed to maturity, you have to add in time from seedling to germination to seedling plant before you can plant outdoors.   In this example, growing days equaled frost free days not optimal growing days as that is all I had to work with.  For all my effort, I typically would get about 3 small to medium tomatoes, but hey I grew them at high elevation.
CSU does not endorse any seed company. 
This just shows a shorter season tomato variety.
Now I could have used other methods of season extension to grow my tomatoes as mentioned above.  I did however grow many cool season crops like lettuce and spinach.  Did you know years ago there were lettuce farms in Silverthorne?  Sometimes it is much easier to grow what grows best in your area.  Depends on how much time, effort and money you want to put into it.  Happy Growing Season.

Monday, April 29, 2019

One of My Favorite Native Plants- Coneflower

by Ed Powers
As a child growing up in the Dakota’s, Nebraska, and as an adult, in Michigan, we grew coneflower in our gardens.  They were tall, extremely beautiful, easy to grow and they really set off our gardens. The scientific name for the coneflower is Echinacea.  I have tried to grow them at 8,000 feet, where we live now, with a great degree of difficulty.  But, after 3 years of trying, we are finally seeing results.

Echinacea is a group of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. The genus Echinacea has ten species, which are commonly called coneflowers. They are found only in eastern states to the eastern plains of central North America, where they grow in moist to dry prairies as well as open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ἐχῖνος (echinos), meaning "hedgehog", due to the spiny central disk, referencing the spiky appearance and feel of the flower heads.  

These flowering plants and their parts have different uses. Some species are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers. Echinacea purpurea is used in folk medicine. Two of the species, E. tennesseensis and E. laevigata, are listed in the United States as endangered species.
White Coneflower- Courtesy of American

Echinacea species are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing up to 140 cm, or 4 feet, in height. They grow from taproots, except E. purpurea, which grows from a short caudex with fibrous roots. They have erect stems that, in most species, are unbranched. Both the basal and cauline (stem) leaves are arranged alternately. The flowers are collected together into single rounded heads at the ends of long peduncles. Like all members of the sunflower family, the flowering structure is a composite inflorescence, with rose-colored (rarely yellow or white) florets arranged in a prominent, somewhat cone-shaped head – "cone-shaped" because the petals of the outer ray florets tend to point downward (are reflexed) once the flower head opens, thus forming a cone. Plants are generally long lived.

Research concluded that of the 40 genetically diverse populations of Echinacea studied, there were ten distinct species.  Only Echinacea angustifolia is native to Colorado.
·         Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf coneflower
·         Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka purple coneflower
·         Echinacea laevigata – Smooth coneflower, smooth purple coneflower
·         Echinacea pallida – Pale purple coneflower
·         Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow coneflower, Bush's purple coneflower
·         Echinacea purpurea – Purple coneflower, eastern purple coneflower
·         Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine purple coneflower
·         Echinacea serotina – Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
·         Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf purple coneflower
·         Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee coneflower

Purple Coneflower- Courtesy of American  
Echinacea, as a medicinal plant, has a long and intriguing history of use. For hundreds of years, the Plains Indians used it as an antiseptic, an analgesic, and to treat poisonous insect and snake bites, toothaches, sore throat, wounds and communicable diseases such as mumps, smallpox, and measles. It was also used by the Cheyenne, Choctaw, Comanche, Dakota, Meskwaki Fox, Pawnee, Sioux, and Omaha tribes. Early settlers then adopted the therapeutic uses of Echinacea root, and it has been used as an herbal remedy in the United States ever since.

In 1762, it was used as a treatment for saddle sores on horses.  Dr. H.C.F. Meyer learned of the uses of Echinacea from the native Indians of Nebraska around 1870, and later introduced it to a doctor in Europe. Dr. J. S. Leachman of Sharon, Oklahoma wrote in the October 1914 issue of "The Gleaner," that Echinacea root was used for nearly every sickness with good results. It was also found to be the secret ingredient in many tonics and blood purifiers of the era.

Red Coneflower- Courtesy of American
Chemists and pharmacologists became interested in Echinacea and many constituents are now known, such as polysaccharides, echinacoside, cichoric acid, keto alkene and alkylamide. The extracts exhibit immunostimulant properties and are mainly used in the prophylaxis and therapy of colds, flu and septic complaints. Although there are over 400 publications concerning the plant and dozens of preparations of Echinacea on the market, the true identity of the active principles still remains open.

Echinacea was included in the U. S. National Formulary from 1916 to 1950, although papers published by the Journal of the American Medical Association described it as a useless quack remedy.  Echinacea became known in Europe around 1895. Many research studies done by doctors in Germany indicated that Echinacea is largely effective mostly by increasing the number of white blood cells, thus boosting the immune system and thereby increasing the body's ability to fight infections.

I have enjoyed growing and cultivating Echinacea, and, next to Columbine and Roses, it has become one of my favorites.

Resources US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
The Spruce
Colorado State University/ Garden Notes
Sunset magazine/ Your guide to growing Coneflowers
University of Pittsburgh
USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

Friday, April 19, 2019

Creating Native Bee Habitat in your Backyard

by Abi Saeed, Garfield County Agri/Horticulture and Natural Resources Extension Agent

Just like us, pollinators need two main things in order to survive: food (floral resources) and shelter (nesting materials and habitat).

Bee on Black-eyed Susan (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Pollinators, like bees, butterflies, birds, bats, etc., play an enormous role in our lives, affecting agriculture, the economy, wildlife and plant diversity in the region. Of the plethora of animals referred to as pollinators, bees are the most important because of a key part of their anatomy: their fuzziness (aka: the tiny hairs that they have all over their bodies). Bees are covered with these branched hairs specialized for collecting pollen, and different bees have hairs on different parts of their bodies. These hairs allow them to be the incredible pollen-carrying critters that we know and love.

Colorado is home to 946 different bee species. The majority of these bees rely on floral resources in the natural environment. Most of the bee species are solitary insects, and live in individual nests, as opposed to their social counterparts, honey bees and bumble bees. This means that most wild bees need a place to build a nest either in the ground, or in existing cavities.

Due to increased development, these nesting resources are fewer and farther between. Although it is always a good idea to incorporate pollinator-friendly plants, encouraging the beneficial insects into your landscape involves more than just flowers. The nesting habitat is especially critical for our wild native bee communities to survive, and thrive, in our landscapes.

Native bee habitat in your gardens-
Ground-nesting Bees:

Roughly 70 percent of bees nest in the ground. By leaving some bare patches of undisturbed soil - it does not need to be large area, and can be tucked out of the way - you are creating safe ground-nesting bee habitat for these extremely important native pollinators. Although mulch is a useful tool for your garden beds, it creates an obstacle for a ground-nesting bee to find the proper spot to make a home. Mulch can still be used in your garden, but leave some areas uncovered to allow direct soil access for bees.
Ground-nesting Bee (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Cavity-nesting Bees:
Cavity nesting bees, which include 30 percent of the species, can be just as simple to accommodate. Welcome them in your gardens by creating “mason bee houses,” which are made from wood, reeds, cardboard tubes, and a container to house these elements in. Mason bee houses can be as simple or complicated as you like, but make sure that you follow some simple guidelines concerning the correct materials if you are building your own bee hotels. These can easily be found online with a quick search for “bee homes.” Placement can be just as important as the materials that you use for these nesting boxes. Opt for a sturdy spot on a wall or shed in an out-of-the-way area. Make sure that the structure is 3-5 feet above the ground, and away from bird feeders and water spouts that will drain excess moisture. South and/or southeast facing bee hotels do best - they have access to early morning sun and warmth throughout the spring season.
Cavity-nesting Bee Hotel (Photo by Abi Saeed)
And, as with any pollinator habitat, make sure that there are plenty of flowering plants nearby for the bees to access nectar and pollen.

For more Information: