Friday, September 20, 2019

A Tool For Understanding The Soil On Your Property

by Kristina Hughes
Clear Creek County Master Gardener

I just discovered an online tool which I think is pretty neat for learning about the characteristics of your property. You can type in any address in the U.S. and receive a report of the soil types typically found in that area.

The start, go to and click on the big green button ‘Start WSS’. Find the Area of Interest (AOI) tab. Click on ‘Address’ and enter an address. Click on ‘View’. A map will appear with a location marker on the address.

The next step is to select an Area of Interest. Along the top of the map are tool buttons. On the right end of the tool bar, click on either button which says ‘AOI’. Then use the mouse to delineate a specific area on the map. Once you have outlined an area, click on the ‘Soil Map’ tab towards the top of the page to find the report.

The report for my area was interesting. It gave mean annual precipitation, numbers of frost free days and mean annual temperature. The next section listed the typical depth of each soil layer and its composition. There was information on drainage, runoff and flooding characteristics.

There is also an educational area on the website which provides brief descriptions of what soil is, how it is formed, and more.

The information in the report is generalized for the type of land forms in an area. For example my report is titled ‘Georgetown Area, Part of Clear Creek, Gilpin & Park Counties’. To get specific, detailed information for planting on my property I still need a soil test, but I found this report from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to be fun and interesting!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Raise your sites

By Claudia Dausman, Master Gardener

Raised gardens are fairly easy to build and maintain, simply a container above the ground filled with fertile soil and plants. The myriad benefits are: (1) its relatively small in area; (2) maintenance without bending over to the ground; (3) fewer weeds; (4) longer growing season; and (5) full control over the quality of the soil.

The containment box can be constructed of almost any wood, like aspen, although cedar and redwood are best. Length of the garden is only constrained by the space available, but width shouldn’t exceed 4-5 feet to facilitate the gardening of the plants. As to depth of soil, most plants need 12 inches for their roots, so 15-18 inches of soil is optimal.

The beds should be composed of topsoil, compost and other organic materials, such as manure. An appropriate recipe for a 4x8 foot bed is 8 cubic feet (cf) of topsoil, 6 cf of peat moss and 4-6 cf of compost or manure. Although not necessary, many gardens have a screen on the bottom to deter varmints from below.
My interest in raised gardens (and authoring this article) was piqued by meeting a young man, Andrew Zopf, who made a raised garden out dead aspen trees from his parents’ backyard and beyond. Andrew was inspired by Miss Gay, his AP Biology teacher in Steamboat Springs, and dreamed of having his own garden.  He began by hiking up a hill and locating some large logs, trimming the large branches, and then hauling them back down the hill to the garden site. Quite a task because most logs were 5-6 inches in diameter and a total of 5 beds were constructed. When Andrew started stacking the logs, it became evident how difficult it was to level them on top of each other to achieve a dirt deterrent seal. This created a new appreciation of the original settlers who built houses using this method.

The garden beds were built over an old compost pile so it had a good base. Unfortunately there are tall trees nearby and the beds receive only 6-7 hours of sunlight, whereas the ideal situation is direct sunlight all day.

The project the first year was somewhat expensive, since it required purchasing all of the dirt, plants and seeds. The watering system consists of a drip line from his parents’ house with a mechanical system to control the water to the desired areas. Andrew readily admits he has made mistakes, but is learning from them. Nevertheless, he has seen the fruits of success through the growth of his garden.

We encourage everyone to use the Colorado Extension office for information. It is a free service and their Master Gardeners love to help.

Be an Andrew and “Just Do It.”

Claudia Dausman moved to Steamboat in 2002 and became a Master Gardener in 2011.  Besides gardening, she loves her husband, her horses, knitting, and pickleball.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Witches’ Broom

by Vicky Barney

Witches’ broom is the name given to the strange looking knot of growth on trees and shrubs.   It looks like a broom – a large number of small branches growing from one spot – and may be found on both deciduous woody plants and conifers.  It is interesting to observe out in the forest but may be concerning if found close to home.

A tree or shrub may grow witches brooms when stressed by insects like mites or aphids, a plant pathogen like fungi, bacteria, viruses, phytoplasmas, or by parasitic plants.  In Colorado conifers, the stressor is likely one of five parasitic dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium).
Witches' Broom on conifer
Dwarf mistletoe infects a tree by growing root-like structures under the bark and into the wood. It lives by pulling nutrients and water from the tree.  It is a slow growing organism: after several years it will develop inconspicuous flowers and produce fruit that when ripe, will explode and send a seed into the air.  The seed will stick to any surface up to 60 feet away.  If the surface is a susceptible tree branch, the seed will germinate and grow into the bark, spreading the infection to another tree.

Witches’ brooms caused by other stressors rarely kill the host plant and may be pruned out to improve the appearance of the tree or shrub.  Dwarf mistletoe, however, can be deadly.  Over time, infected trees fail to thrive and may have witches’ brooms, unhealthy looking foliage, and dead branches.  The trees are then susceptible to fatal problems like pine beetle attacks.
Mistletoe on deciduous tree
While no viable treatment is available for infected conifers, proper management may slow or stop a dwarf mistletoe infestation. Severely affected trees should be removed and other trees pruned to remove infection from lower branches.  As dwarf mistletoe is species specific, its spread may be halted by planting different tree species between infected trees.  A chemical spray may be warranted under special circumstances.   Please see CSU Extension Fact Sheet No. 2.925 for more details. (

If you find a witches’ broom in your conifer and seek pruning information, please see CSU Extension GardenNotes #633 (  If you suspect a dwarf mistletoe infestation and would like help with a management plan, please contact a professional forester, the Colorado State Forest Service, or the Master Gardener program.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Yikes--Bugs in Compost!!!

By Yvette Henson, CSU Extension Agent, San Miguel Basin

Last year, my compost pile became infested with pill bugs—what most of us call ‘roly poly’s’.  In the early spring, I like to add an inch or two of compost to my raised beds in preparation for planting, I noticed a solid layer of all sizes of pill bugs covering the top of my compost pile!  I wish I had taken a photo but I wasn’t thinking of documenting it at the time.  I did my best to remove that layer with my shovel and tossed them into the woods.  I went ahead and applied the compost to my garden beds.  Most references tell us that these little arthropods don’t do much damage to our plants—they simply munch on organic matter.  So, it makes sense they would be in a compost pile.   There are other positive attributes to these little buggers too.  However, they ended up thriving and multiplying in my beds, eating almost ALL of my carrots as soon as they germinated and so I had to replant!  In my short mountain growing season, replanting was a real bummer (not to mention the loss of the seeds)!  I spent quite a bit of time picking them out as I found them, luring and ‘trapping’ them under cardboard so I could toss them or squish them.

  While this was somewhat satisfying as ‘revenge’ it didn’t amount to much reduction in population. They kept hidden and multiplied in the crack between my soil line and the raised bed walls.  Finally, I got and applied an organic granular product containing spinosad that was somewhat effective.  It was labeled for pill bug control.

Pill bugs or’ roly polys’

Another insect I have seen in my compost pile are grubs! I saw these this year when I was adding partial compost to cover newly added food scraps. Beetle larvae are appropriately called ‘grubs’ and have a dark head, 6 legs near the head and they curl into C shape.  Some grubs feed on plant roots so you don’t want to add them with your compost to your garden.  Instead, screen them out of your compost pile when you find them.  You can feed them to your chickens, if you have any, or leave them for wild birds.  By the way, chickens don’t favor pill bugs for snacks. 

A ‘Grub’ ie beetle larvae

You might see maggots, fly larvae, in your compost pile if you add cooked or oily food or meat or some manures to your compost pile.  Too much nitrogen and water is a good breeding ground for them too.  Maggots have a pointed head and no legs (see the photo below).  Maggots are a good protein source for chickens and birds.  When they mature, they will fly away.   Besides not adding the above to your compost, keeping it just damp enough, like a wrung out sponge, and burying kitchen waste as you add it, will help prevent maggots from developing in your compost. 

The best way to prevent or rid arthropod invaders from your compost is to add a nitrogen source by layers to the compost as you turn it.  Keep the nitrogen in balance with the dry brown carbon in your compost. Some nitrogen sources are fresh grass clippings, alfalfa pellets, blood meal or some other fertilizer high in Nitrogen.  The way I ‘turn’ my pile is by moving my compost from one bin or ‘pile’ to another.  This puts what was on top on the bottom and what was on bottom on top.  The reason we do this is to add oxygen and a food source (the nitrogen) for the microorganisms that do the work of turning the waste into a great soil amendment.  These microorganisms will heat the pile as they feed and multiply.  A temperature of around 145 degrees F should kill most of the ‘critters’ and their eggs, plus it will help your compost break down and ‘finish’ more quickly.   Ideally you should turn your compost whenever the temperature in the center of the pile gets below 70 degrees F,  unless it is finished.  Turning it once in the spring and once in the fall is usually sufficient.  Using a compost thermometer to monitor temperature is a good idea and they are relatively inexpensive.

For more information on composting in general see,

Sometimes we get other pests in our outdoor compost piles and our indoor worm bins but I will save those for another blog, if there is interest.

Friday, August 30, 2019


My garden has been neglected when it comes to deadheading.  Mostly native plants have flowered year after year, providing cheerful color and food for wildlife.  But there is trouble in Paradise. The short blooming season is limiting pollinator food supplies, and aggressive plants have spread and crowded out other plants. By incorporating deadheading into my routine, I may have a longer season and greater variety of flowers.

Deadheading is the practice of removing spent blossoms.  It can be done all season long when a bloom has faded.  The practice allows energy to flow back into the plant, rather than into seed production, improving the plant’s health.

Deadheading to encourage more flowers can be as easy as pinching off the dead flower.  For most plant species, the process is more effective if the stem is cut just above the first leaf, ensuring the removal of the seed pod.  Annuals like geraniums, marigolds, and dahlias respond well, as do perennials like Jupiter’s beard, Shasta daisy, and blanket flower.  For plants that don’t have leaves along the flower stem, the stem is cut down at the base.  A longer blooming period or a rebloom may result, depending on a number of factors including the plant species, the weather and the time of year.
Pussytoes to deadhead
Deadheading can also be used to limit self-seeding of aggressive or unwanted plants, allowing other plant species to grow.  Some of my native plants (showy daisy, yarrow, and pussy toes) are bullies and crowd out harebells and lavender.  Deadheading will reduce their seed proliferation and help keep these aggressive plants in check.  Roots and new growth also needs to be controlled with a sharp shovel since these species spread by rhizome too.

For some species, deadheading does not result in more flowers.  Some nonnative plants are cultivated to bloom profusely without the need to deadhead. Others are one-time blooming plants, like daylilies and peonies.  Gardeners may deadhead just to improve the appearance of these plants and to keep their gardens tidy.  Follow this link for a list of common perennials that may rebloom after deadheading:

Incorporating deadheading into my weekly routine will keep the task manageable.  Aggressive seeders have been addressed first, then plants that may produce more flowers for pollinators. To ensure an ample supply of seeds and fruit for wintering wildlife, I will suspend the practice before too long.  Seeing birds feasting in the winter garden is a treat!

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

Friday, August 23, 2019

WOW! What outstanding wildflowers!

By Sandy Hollingsworth, Gilpin County Master Gardener
2019 is one of those banner years for our native wildflowers in the forests, public lands, and our neighborhoods.  With the wet Spring and then repeated rains this summer, the seeds have sprouted and the flowers are in bloom.  Another benefit of the wet earth is the lower wildfire risk in our local mountains and where we live in rural Gilpin County. And our cool season high elevation vegetable gardens are happy and productive!
Wildflower enthusiasts in Golden Gate State Park (author at the far right)

Our CSU Extension office offers wildflower walks in the summer during peak bloom color. I went on one the last day of July on a beautiful Wednesday morning. Our group was focused and inquisitive about learning the flowers. Many questions were asked about identifying characteristics to help recognize and remember the flowers and plants. We were in the local state park and encountered some noxious weeds like yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) and musk thistle (Carduus nutans) but by and large the native flowers, grasses and trees were dominating. Our Extension agent, Irene, even showed us her technique for toppling the musk thistle by bending it to the ground, stomping on it, taking the flower head off then pulling up and tossing the remaining stalk to its demise.

Among the native flowers (and plants) in bloom that we admired and examined were:
Harebell                               Campanula rotundifolia
Tansy aster (yellow center)  Erigeron speciosus
Shrubby cinquefoil              Potentilla fruticosa
Gum weed (sticky flowerheads) Grindelia squarrosa
Wild Rose                            Rosa woodsii
Yarrow                                Achillea millefolium (lantana)
Evening primrose               Oenothera villosa
Whiplash daisy                   Erigeron flagellaris
Mariposa/sego Lilly           Calochortus gunnisonii
Blue mist Penstemon         Penstemon virens
Lamberts locoweed           Oxytropis lambertii
Laxman’s Astragalus        Astragalus laxmannii
Hairy golden aster            Heterotheca villosa         
Showy aspen daisy           Erigeron speciosus
Sulphur buckwheat          Eriogonum umbellatum
One-sided penstemon      Penstemon virgatus
Fringed sage                    Artemisia frigida
Blanketflower                  Gaillardia aristata
Blanket Flower (with Yarrow in front)
Mountain sage                    Artemisia ludoviciana
Nodding Onion                  Allium cernuum
Northern bedstraw (scented)     Galium septentrionale
Stick seed Hackelia          Hackelia floribunda
Native thistle                    Cirsium clavatum (whitish flowers)
Mountain larkspur           Delphinium ramosum
Indian paintbrush (scarlet and white) Castilleja miniata and occidentalis
Indian Paintbrush
Wild geranium                       Geranium caespitosum
Stonecrop                              Amerosedum lanceolatum
Scorpion weed                       Phacelia heterophylla
Fendlers meadow rue            Thalictrum fendlerii
Twin berry honeysuckle        Lonicera involucrata
Nodding brome (native grass)    Bromus anomalus
Golden rod                        Solidago simplex
Prairie June grass              Koeleria macrantha
Native cinquefoils             Potentilla argentea, speciosa, and pensylvanica
Fendlers sand wort            Eremogene fendleri
Mountain parsley             Cymopterus montanus
Whiskbroom parsley        Harboria
Wild tarragon                  Oligosporus dracunculus
Limber pine                     Pinus flexulis
Blue spruce                     Picea pungens
Wall flower                     Erysimum capitatum
Kinnikinnick                  Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Scarlet gilia (biennial)   Ipomopsis aggregata
Scarlet gilia
Golden banner                Thermopsis divaricarpa
Yellow false dandelion  Agoseris
Horsetail                       Equisetum
Black eye Susan           Rudbeckia hirta
Blue flax                       Linum lewisii
Smooth penstemon      Penstemon glaber
Porter aster
Porter aster                  Symphyotricum porteri
Pea Vine                      Lathyrus polymorphis
Snowberry bush          Symphoricarpus alba
Showy goldeneye       Heliomeris (Viguera) multiflora

Sandy Hollingsworth is a Master Gardener with  Gilpin County.  All photos by Sandy.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Sedum lanceolatum

by Cindy Gibson
There is a path I take almost every day as part of my morning or evening chores on our small ranch. I’m a downward-looking walker, usually making sure that I don’t trip over a new gopher mound or looking for weeds that I need to pull. However, I stopped in my tracks when I saw this little native gem seemingly to grow out of some rocks.

Commonly known as yellow stonecrop, Sedum lanceolatum can be found in the Western
United States and Canada, from Alaska and the Yukon to California and east to Colorado and South Dakota. It grows at montane or alpine elevations in open, rocky and dry locations. The plant evolved during the last ice age when higher altitude areas became isolated by glaciers.
Sedum lanceolatum
Like other sedums, it has a waxy coating on the stems and leaves to help reduce water loss. In addition, plants that have evolved in dry environments are able to keep their stomata closed during the day to conserve water. Most plants open their stomata during the day because that is when energy is received from the sun. The plant will also take in carbon dioxide and use the energy from the sun to form sugars. All the steps of photosynthesis occur during the day and oxygen is released. The sedums, cacti, and agaves are able to open their stomata at night to capture and store carbon dioxide. Photosynthesis starts the next day when the plant receives the energy from the sun. This two-step process is known as CAM photosynthesis, named after the plant where this process was first discovered.
Sedum lanceolatum rosette
Sedums belong to the Crassulaceae, or Stonecrop, family. The USDA classifies this plant as a perennial herb. It has been reported to be hardy in zones 4-9.  This succulent plant will appear in the spring with tight basal rosettes that are composed of small, narrow leaves that come to a blunt tip. The reddish leaves point upwards and become smaller as the plant grows. They often fall away by the time the plant blooms. 

The flowers will appear sometime in June and last until August. They have five narrow, lance shaped, pointed-tipped petals and a ring of protruding stamens. Most flower parts are greenish yellow in color. The stamens are tipped with yellow anthers. At the center of the flower is a five-lobed ovary, which transforms into reddish fruit in the fall. The tiny, lightweight seeds will emerge in late August when the fruit turns tan and begins to split open at the top. The plant will also grow from leaf or stem cuttings.
Flowers with ring of stamens and the five-lobed ovaries
Fun Facts about Sedum lanceolatum:
• The young stems and fleshy leaves have been used medicinally by Native Americans as a
• The flowers attract native bees, butterflies and the syrphid flies whose larvae will prey on
aphids, scale insect and thrips.
• The larvae of the alpine butterfly, Parnassium smintheus feed primarily on this plant. The
female butterfly lays her eggs on the surrounding ground vegetation. The caterpillars will
pupate within a silk cocoon located in ground debris.
• The plant produces a chemical called sarmentosin, which is a bitter-tasting deterrent to
herbivores. The Parnassium larva, however, will store this chemical and use it for their own

Now on my daily walks, I’m more apt to be looking for tiny treasures instead of weeds. Who knows what I will find next!

  • USDA Plant Database
  • Southwest Colorado Wildflowers Database
  • Native Plant Network

Cindy Gibson is a Master Gardener in Jefferson County.
All photos by Cindy Gibson

Friday, August 9, 2019

Rewards of being a Master Gardener

by Sandy Hollingsworth, Gilpin County Extension
Those of us who have completed the CSU Master Gardener training for our county Extension know it is an exciting time spent wondering if we can retain much of the information. We learn from CSU Professors, Adjunct faculty and Extension Agents who are experts in the fields of horticulture, entomology and forestry. We learn to be good attentive listeners, ask clarifying questions and use materials and CSU Fact Sheets and Garden Notes as references. After months of classes and clinics we are ready to teach and guide the public, and our neighbors, through their plant selection, garden preparations, soil amendments, fire-wise planting, home fire mitigation, pest identification, info on rain barrels, noxious weed eradication and encourage planting low water or native trees, shrubs and flowers suitable for Colorado.

In Gilpin County we are especially happy to be volunteers for our fabulous Extension Agent and some of us have been with her the past 16 years also serving on the Advisory Committee which brings together representation for the many programs under the Extension umbrella. Here are our current Master Gardeners and a bit about each of us.

Cindy Goodrich:
What do you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: I just love anything to do with dirt, gardening, and nature. The more knowledge I have, the better. And lastly, being relatively new to the area (four years), I am making a new group of friends, not only among the Master Gardeners and CSU Extension people, but also in the community we serve.

How long you have volunteered for Extension: Only a few months!

Your favorite vegetable to grow: All kinds of herbs (in pots). Veggies are definitely in my future, but not until I finish with general landscaping and mitigation. We’ve lived here for four years and still have so much basic stuff to do. 

Your favorite native to grow: Believe it or not, Scorpion Weed (Phacelia heterophylla)
! It’s not especially pretty, but it’s prolific and the bees absolutely LOVE it. Very satisfying to see them buzz around it, and it’s in bloom all summer. I also love anything scented - especially milkweed. 

Any other quote or comment: I’m looking forward to learning (so much) more and helping our wonderful mountain community! My special interests are native plants and plants for pollinators. 

Ginger Baer:
What you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: I really appreciate the knowledge I have gained in order to be able to grow in the mountains. I have gardened for over 60 years, but mostly in gentler environments. It is a challenge to grow up here, and every year is different. It is nice to know that I have many others joining in the struggle, it helps!

How long you have volunteered for Extension: 4 years

Your favorite vegetable to grow: Summer Squash – I get so many so it makes me feel successful!

Your favorite native to grow: Monarda – I love the spicy smell and it attracts so many pollinators

Sandy Hollingsworth:
What do you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: Educating and discussing with the public about land stewardship, fire mitigation, plant selection for the mountains, and tricks for a more successful garden. I enjoy listening to stories about others’ gardens and using information when volunteering for the Food Bank garden. I also enjoyed being on the first Advisory Committee to discuss Gilpin County Extension programs more broadly.

How long have you volunteered for Extension: 21 years, since 1998

Your favorite vegetable to grow: small turnips, tender and yummy! Spinach is always easy, fast and tasty.

Your favorite native to grow: Showy fleabane – it is so cheery, grown in a big bunch, and butterflies like its landing pad when in bloom.

Quote: To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. – Audrey Hepburn

Christy Hoyl:
What do you like most about being a Mountain Master Gardener: meeting new people in the community and sharing my passion for all things green.  It’s super fun working alongside other MG’s and hearing their stories too.  I love the opportunities for continuing education, conferences and workshops.  Especially wonderful is getting your hands in the dirt and seeing the plants grow!

How long have you volunteered for Extension: since 2001, so 18 years.

Your favorite vegetables to grow: salad greens (many varieties) and carrots. The grandkids love to go pick the carrots and eat them right there in the garden.

Your favorite Native to grow: Blue Flax linum lewsii - love the color. My favorite native (but I don’t grow) - is the Alpine Forget-me-not and Rosa woodsii.

Here is an Edwardian poem:
Tis like the birthday of the world,
When Earth was born in bloom;
The light is made of many dyes
The air is all perfume.

Christy Swarts:
How long have you volunteered for Extension: 3 years.

What do you like most about being a MG: Meeting new people who share the same passion for gardening.  The knowledge network is tremendous.

What are your favorite vegetables to grow: all cucumber varieties. Not so easy though up here in the high country.

What is your favorite Native to grow: Columbine

2019 Gilpin County Extension Master Gardeners with
 Irene Shonle, Extension Agent, (right)

Friday, August 2, 2019

Taming a lilac bush

by Vicky Barney 
A lilac is a wonderful bush in most gardens, adding fragrance and color early in the gardening season.  It requires little attention and will adapt to its site, be it sunny or shady, wet or dry, and provides early season nectar to pollinators.  After 5 or 6 years, however, it needs some attention if you want a bush that continues to bloom well and look pretty.  My old and neglected lilac bush clearly needs some attention.

The common lilac (Syringa vulgaris), brought to the US in the 1700’s and originating in Asia, looks best in a tended cottage garden or as a riotous hedge.   It does not fit well in my native garden.  Each spring, I’m tempted to remove it and then it blooms: beautiful and fragrant flowers among rich green leaves.   Then I think I should move it to a different location, one that is a little less “wild.”  A little research has helped with the decision.

Moving/Removing - Lilacs will grow anywhere but bloom best in a sunny location.  As its current location is semi-shady, my bush would fare better in another area.  But moving it is not a good option nor is removing it all together.  Lilacs form huge root balls that are hard to move, and any roots left behind will sprout new plants.  Unless I want a major excavation project or lilac shoots all over the yard, the bush needs to remain in place.

Pruning - Adopting an annual maintenance routine will result in a prettier and healthier bush.  Since it is a spring flowering shrub, pruning is best done right after the flowers have died and before next year’s buds form. Deadhead the flowers, remove unhealthy looking stems and leaves, and trim the shape.  Periodic thinning of older stems will improve flowering and keep the blossoms from getting out of reach.   CSU Extension’s Garden Notes #619 has detailed information about pruning and includes a great photo of what not to do.

Companion planting - A lilac bush may look more attractive if additional spring bloomers are added to the flower bed.  Spring flowering bulbs – daffodils, tulips, hyacinths – are good companion plants, similarly adaptable and equally stunning in spring.

I’ve made peace with my lilac bush and am making it look better by taking generous cuttings while it is blooming and the air is fragrant.   With regular pruning the bush will be tamed, but after I’ve enjoyed its flowers both indoors and out. 
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Managing bindweed in the garden

by Vicky Barney
Before I found it in my garden, I thought field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis var. linearifoliu) was a rather pretty plant.  It looks like a morning glory (in the Convolvulus family), growing along the ground or as a vine, and producing pretty white or pink flowers.  But unlike Morning glory, it grows extremely quickly, takes over gardens and lawns, returns year after year, and is nearly impossible to eradicate. 

Field bindweed can be distinguished from morning glory by its arrowhead shaped leaves and its ability to grow in nearly any environment – in yards, along roads, in pastures.  One plant will grow an extensive underground root system that may travel 10 feet deep and contain a 2-3 year food supply.  It will produce up to 300 seeds that stay viable in the soil for 40 years.  And it cannot be dug out easily - the stems are fragile and any root piece left in the soil will produce a new plant.
Field Bindweed
Because of the tenacity and invasive nature of this non-native, the Colorado Noxious Weed Act has identified field bindweed as a “List C” species, which means local government may require it be contained, eradicated, or suppressed.  It may never be completely eradicated in our gardens, but it can be contained and suppressed if we are consistent with healthy gardening practices.
Vigilance – Look for bindweed when weeding or after introducing new soil or new plants into your yard. (My bindweed arrived in the soil of a nursery grown shrub.) Young seedlings can be removed if roots are dug several inches below the soil.   Established plants should be cut or pulled at the surface as soon as possible, stressing the plant and slowing its growth.
Mulch – Bindweed grows best in sunshine.  Mulching regularly will discourage growth.
Healthy Soil – Improving the nutrient balance of your soil will discourage most weeds.  A soil test will determine the necessary steps to soil health specific to your yard. (

For large dry land infestations of field bindweed, a biological control is available.  CSU’s Plant Talk 1493 has more details on using the bindweed mite. (

CSU’s Plant Talk: Controlling Bindweed ( includes a discussion of using herbicides.  Like the controls listed above, this method requires several years of vigilance.  It also requires careful application to minimize damage to surrounding life.  It is not an option for those of us cultivating wildlife friendly yards.

Perseverance and healthy gardening practices will discourage nuisance weeds like field bindweed.  Fortunately, these same routines will keep our gardens flourishing.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Friday, July 19, 2019

The Rise of Spruce Beetle in the Colorado Mountains

by Emily Jack-Scott (Garfield County Master Gardener Apprentice)
The spruce beetle (Dendroctonus rufipennis) is currently the leading insect responsible for killing trees in Colorado, having usurped mountain pine beetle in 2012 (2017 Report, CSFS). These bark beetles have swept through hundreds of thousands of acres of forested lands in the Colorado Rockies in recent years. Since 2000, close to 2 million acres have been impacted across Colorado. Counties most heavily impacted between 1996-2018 include Hinsdale, Mineral, Saguache, Gunnison, Conejos, and Rio Grande; each experiencing hundreds of thousands of affected acres. (2018 Report, CSFS)
Figure 1 Tree mortality in Colorado caused by mountain pine beetle vs. spruce beetle. Spruce beetle overtook pine beetle as the lead insect pest in 2012. Credit: 2017 Report on the Health of Colorado's Forests (CSFS)
Spruce bark beetles are a native species, endemic to the Rocky Mountains. In Colorado, the beetles favor high alpine (above 9,000’) Engelmann spruce, but will also attack Colorado blue spruce and Norway spruce, and at lower elevations. At usual low endemic levels the beetles target dead trees, from windfall events or the like. But once they rise to epidemic levels they will attack live trees, initially favoring larger diameter trees (over 16” diameter), progressively targeting smaller spruces down to 3” diameter. Larvae overwinter under the bark of infested trees, emerging as adults and flying to new host trees between May and July the following year. Once they find a new host, adults chew through a host tree’s bark to tunnel around in the tree’s cambium and outer-most sapwood just beneath the bark, creating elaborate tunneling patterns known as galleries. It is in these galleries that they will lay their eggs, which will hatch into larvae in the fall and start the life cycle over again (2018 Report, CSFS; CSFS Quick Guide).
Figure 2 Tree mortality caused by spruce beetle. Credit: USDA Forest Service, Region 6, State and Private Forestry, Forest Health Protection. Source: William M. Ciesla collection; Fort Collins, Colorado.
What to look for:
Signs include the small dark brown beetles or white creamy larvae themselves. Symptoms include frass (insect poop, appearing as a fine sawdust from boring activity) collecting in the furrows of bark along the trunk, thin streamers of sap running down the trunk, visible small holes in the trunk with or without pitch tubes (see Figure 3), increased woodpecker activity, and/or the yellowing and eventual dropping of needles. Unlike pines attacked by mountain pine beetle the needles do not turn a vibrant red before falling off. Rather they fade to a sickly green before drying out entirely and falling off over time (CSFS Quick Guide).

Figure 3 Pitch tubes Credit:  USDA Forest Service
Spruce beetle is not confined to forested areas, and therefore should be on the radar of gardeners and landscapers in the mountains. Spruce beetle can sometimes favor trees in landscaped and urban settings, which may be under additional pressures and adverse growing conditions. Other factors that can make trees more at risk are drought stress, recent fires, increasingly mild winter low temperatures, and abundance of spruce in an area (Spruce Beetle UAF).

The Colorado mountains have not only experienced these stressors in recent years, but most recently incurred historic avalanches during the 2019 winter. These avalanches resulted in the disturbance, uprooting, and death of countless spruce, serving as magnets for spruce beetles. This will likely increase spruce beetle pressure in forests and yards of the high mountains that were otherwise minimally impacted over the last few decades (see map below of recent spruce beetle activity in Colorado). 
What you can do:
Options for prevention are limited. Pyrethroid insecticides can be sprayed on tree trunks during flight windows (May-July), and very new research is confirming that certain formulations of MCH[S1] [EJ2]  pheromone packets (namely MCH-AKB) has efficacy deflecting beetle attacks. These pheromone packets release a scent that sends a false signal to beetles that a tree of forest stand has already been infested by spruce beetles, so new beetles pass over such trees (Hansen et al. 2019). Once trees have been attacked, they should be felled and either completely removed from a location (including chips and slash), or should be cut and stacked in an area with full sun and covered completely with clear plastic. (Spruce Beetle, CSFS)

2017 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests. Colorado State Forest Service.

2018 Report on the Health of Colorado’s Forests. Colorado State Forest Service.

Hansen, E.M., Munson, A.S., Wakarchuk, D., Blackford, D.C., Graves, A.D., Stephens, S. and Moan, J.E., 2019. Advances in Semiochemical Repellents to Mitigate Host Mortality From the Spruce Beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae). Journal of economic entomology.

Spruce Beetle – Trees/Forests at Risk. University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Despite beetle threat, Aspen-area avy debris to remain. Aspen Times. July 2, 2019.