Friday, February 19, 2021

Indoor Plant Fun

By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

It has been an interesting 14 months. My wife and I have been quarantined this whole time. Like a lot of people we have been catching up on things we fell behind on. We spent our whole summer working on our outdoor gardens. Our flowering plant pots were highly successful, but our vegetable garden was eaten up by the wildlife in our area. We had the garden protected with double netting but the voles and mice got through it and had a feast. So this spring we are going to dig up and turn over our raised garden soil, and find a new protection for them.   

But our indoor plant gardens have been fun. We rely on background info from CSU factsheets and Garden Notes for information on how to take care of them. I can not say enough positive things about these resources. The types of plants we have can be very challenging. We have orchids, African violets, many types of  succulents and cacti. A desert rose, miniature ficus trees, small Japanese Red Maples, indoor geraniums, pothos, ivy, mother-in-law tongue, a small nursery that I start plants in, a small Japanese Black Pine that I am trying to bonsai, several Christmas cactus and a hanging bag full of outdoor plants that I brought in for the winter to see if they would make it.

Plants on steel shelves with only natural light.

Now you may ask how do we house and care for these plants? They are housed in our garage, turned into a sun room and workspace area. It has no heat except for heat coming through basement open areas such as doors or windows.  Our sunny areas face the southwest and some northerly exposure.  We have our stronger plants on steel shelving with some artificial light. We have also put bubble wrap on the windows for insulation while letting the sun light in. The temperature averages between 62 F and 67 F during the winter although when we get below 10 F outside that temperature can drop to 58 F.  

Bubble wrap on windows for insulation and light.

These steel-shelfed plants include all our trees, succulents, desert rose, Christmas cactus, mother-in-law tongue and Japanese Red Maples. They all seem to do well even when it is colder.  Our more sensitive plants are on a plant stand draped with a plastic curtain in back and bubble wrap in front, which can be lifted and thrown over the back of the stand on warm days. The bubble wrap is two sheets 18 inches wide with openings in middle and ends, allowing circulation in the stand. 

Orchids on first shelf of plant stand.

The stand has three shelves. When planting seed in early spring, I put them on the bottom shelf in trays. All shelves are lit with LED lighting. The top shelf holds the orchids, African violets, our small plant nursery and newly rooted trees, and is heated with a heat mat that is controlled by a thermostat.  The second shelf does not have a heat mat. It holds geraniums, pothos and ivy. The stand usually is 65 F to 70 F.  But on colder mornings it may drop to 61 F.

Plant nursery, African violets and newly started ficus trees on first shelf of plant stand. 

All in all it has been a fun time with our plants during this Pandemic and we hope to continue with our success when the Pandemic has passed.

Friday, February 5, 2021

8 Ways Cover Crops Can Improve Your Garden

By Patti O’Neal, Jefferson County Extension Horticulture and Urban Food Systems

Cover cropping, a strategy also known as green manure, has been practiced by gardeners and farmers the world over for over 10,000 years. This organic restoration practice can boost your garden noticeably the very first year you incorporate it into your own best management practices and the improvements increase even more each year as their effects accumulate. These crops are easy to use, do not need much care beyond watering and a mowing/cutting or two and provide tremendous advantages to the garden and gardener.

Cover crops are plants that are considered soil builders. Here are 8 sometimes overlooked ways that cover crops build the soil productivity in your garden:

·       Provides Beneficial insect habitat – pollinators, honeybees, beneficial predator insects will all enjoy the nectar as well as the shelter these crops can provide at every season you use them.

·       Smothers weeds and suppresses their seed from germinating as well.  They provide a dense mat to keep the light from reaching the seeds.

·       Better, more complete soil tillage than any mechanical method.  These crops improve soil structure, allowing more air and water penetration. They can break up soil compaction, loosen tight, hard, or heavy soils and create good tilth.

·       Provides shade for the soil for cooler root temperatures, less moisture losses during hot weather.

·       Acts as a living mulch when established between vegetable rows.

·       Increases organic matter in the soil while feeding the microbes, beneficial bacteria, fungi, and earthworms living in the soil.

·       Conserves soil moisture both at the surface of the soil and in the critical root zone. The extensive root systems conserve soil by reducing erosion from rain by slowing water flow across and through the soil. The living foliage can also buffer wind effects.

·       Fixes nitrogen from the air while recycling nutrients, preventing their run-off and leaching from the root zone, simultaneously bringing up deeper nutrients to plant roots that are usually unavailable.

Use seasonally appropriate cover crops.  Legumes, vetches, rye, and buckwheat are all excellent cover crop plants.  Like all plants, each cover crop germinates and flourishes best in certain seasons. Most reputable seed companies will sell individual crop packets or recommended mixes appropriate for specific season plantings.  Some cover crop seeds are available locally, but seed catalogues have the widest range and generally provide good advice and instruction on using them.

If you are letting a bed or area of your garden go fallow for a season, this thousands year old practice of planting a cover crop can help to replenish the biological community of your soil below while providing nectar as well as shelter for pollinators and beneficials above. Here are a couple of tips to help you be the most successful with a green manure crop.

Allow your crop to flower but watch carefully and do not let it go to seed or you will be battling weeds of a different sort in the months to come.

Flowering red clover

If you plant early enough in the season you can get one or maybe even two mowing’s in (If you garden in raised beds, a weed whacker works great for this) forcing the root material into overdrive to produce another above ground crop.  This action forces the root system further into the soil to depositing additional nutrients while continuing to improve tilth, bringing formerly unavailable nutrients up to the plant root zone.

After your final mowing, fork the remainder of the material under so the microbes and arthropods you have encouraged can break it all down completely to become plant available nutrients.  Be sure and do this at least a month to six weeks before your intended planting date for this bed.  Otherwise, the increased microbial activity will compete with the root establishment of new plants or can even disrupt germination of seeds. You do not want to spoil all the good work you have done.

Ferris helping turn the cover crop

Friday, January 22, 2021

Water Colors in the Garden

By Ginger Baer, Gilpin County Master Gardener

This is the time of the year that we get flooded with our seed catalogs. Oh, to dream of warm, sunny, gardening weather.  Those catalogs do help brighten a grey wintery day. However, when you get through the catalog and make your order, what else can you do?

One of my first paintings

My grandmother and mother were terrific gardeners.  They also were really good at using their water colors to capture the plants that they loved so much. I have many of my mother’s paintings in my home.  I especially love the floral ones because they are reminders of our gardens and sunny, warm weather.

Two paintings by my mother, Caroline English Stancliff

I have gardened as long as I can remember, but only took up painting six years ago when I retired. To get started I took classes at a community art center.  I then bought some lesson books from my teacher to keep me going. I find this to be a great winter-time activity. I am one of those people that needs sunshine and color in the winter.  Painting really helps. I highly recommend it!

Two more of mine. See the sunshine?

So how do I manage to paint a picture of a flower or vegetable when the ground is all covered in white?  Let’s go back to those seed catalogs. Shepherd’s Seeds has great photos.  Botanical Interests has real artsy graphics. If you want to get inspired, pull out one of your catalogs and start thinking of what you love and what would be fun to paint. My mother used to get out the White Flower Farm catalog.  Some of the things that I found in her bag were clippings of flowers right out of a catalog. As a matter of fact, I inherited all of her art supplies.

Some of the supplies from my mother

Of course, there are other mediums you can use besides watercolors. I just happened to have water colors given to me.  Sometimes they are hard, but I love the softness of them. There are oils, acrylics, pastels, colored pencils, and much more.

I didn’t think I could draw, let alone paint. Those lesson books helped. So did practice, practice, practice. Don’t be shy, give it a try! And then have many happy years of painting things from your garden.

Another of mine. How Colorado is that!

Additional Resources:


This is my art instructor


Supplies can be purchased easily on-line.  I have used and


Beginner watercolor techniques -

Friday, January 8, 2021

What is a Pollinator Syndrome?

By Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

In general, research has shown that plants have specific flower traits that attract pollinators, and the plants provide the pollinator with nectar and pollen rewards. These attractive traits can include flower color, odor, shape, and availability of pollen and nectar. Some plants even have nectar guides which are markings showing where the pollinator should go to collect the reward. Different traits will attract different pollinators. Why would a plant evolve with traits to attract pollinators? Because visiting pollinators will facilitate plant reproduction. This relationship benefits both the plants and the pollinators.

For example, bird pollination is called “ornithophily.”  In Colorado, hummingbirds are primary bird pollinators. We know that hummingbirds generally prefer to visit flowers that are red, orange, or white. The flowers tend to be funnel-shaped, hang loosely on the plant, and have plenty of nectar deep in the flowers. For other birds around the world such as sunbirds, honeycreepers, and honeyeaters, the plants tend to have strong perch support for the bird to land.

Flowers that attract birds typically don’t have an odor, because birds don’t need the scent to find the flowers. You might also notice that the flower petals tend to curve outward to make it easier for a hummingbird in flight to drink nectar.

A female broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). Note the pollen on her head. Photo: Nancy Klasky

The USDA Forest Service compiled a chart of pollinator syndromes for the major groups of pollinators.

A wide variety of research is available demonstrating different pollinator syndromes. I want to share two research studies with you.

Darwin’s Prediction of the Long-Spurred Orchid

In the 1860’s, Darwin studied orchids including the long-spurred orchid, Angraecum sesquipedal. He predicted the flowers were pollinated by a long-tongued moth because the flowers have a long spur approximately 12-inches long! The nectar sources are located deep in those long spurs. When Darwin received a specimen of this orchid, his wrote, “… good heavens what insect can suck it” (Darwin, 1862b).

At the time, no pollinators had been observed pollinating these orchid flowers. Scientists predicated pollinator could possibly be the species, Xanthopan morganii, and subspecies, Xanthopan morganii praedicta, commonly called the Morgan’s sphinx moth because they have a proboscis length (tongue-like tube) that averages over 8 inches long. More than 130 years later after Darwin’s prediction, documentation of this moth pollinating the orchid was finally published beginning in 1993 (Arditti et al., 2012). To learn more, I recommend reading this journal article.

Pollinator Syndromes in Columbines

Another research example that we see in Colorado shows that columbines (Aquilegia spp.) have adapted and evolved to attract different pollinators depending on their spur length. This is considered a “pollinator shift” when the plant adapts to the traits of a pollinator (Whittall and Hodges, 2007). 

Besides the spur length, note the other traits the columbines show to attract their designated pollinator. Image credit: Whittall and Hodges, 2007

Your Garden and Pollinator Syndromes

With anything, there are always exceptions to the rules. If you are looking to plant flowers to attract pollinators, you can use pollinator syndromes as a general guideline, but we recommend doing additional research and reading about pollinator-friendly plants that grow well in your area. For instance, to support pollinators, avoid double flowers. Many double-flowered horticultural varieties typically do not have pollen and nectar available for flower visitors.

Here are some resources for pollinator-friendly plant lists:

·         Creating Pollinator Habitat:

·         Attracting Native Bees to Your Yard:

·         Attracting Butterflies to the Garden:

·         Low-Water Native Plants for Pollinators:

·         Low-Water Native Plants for Colorado Gardens: Mountains 7,500’ and Above:

·         Low-Water Native Plants for Colorado Gardens: Front Range and Foothills:



Arditti, J., Elliott, J., Kitching, I. J., Wasserthall, L. T. ‘Good Heavens what insect can suck it’ – Charles Darwin, Angraecum sesquipedale and Xanthopan morganii praedictaBotanical Journal of the Linnean Society 169, Issue 3, 403-432 (2012).

Darwin CR 1862b. Letter 3411-Darwin, C. R., to Hooker, J. D, 25 January 1862. Available at:

Whittall, J., Hodges, S. Pollinator shifts drive increasingly long nectar spurs in columbine flowers. Nature 447, 706–709 (2007).

Friday, December 18, 2020

Seedling Trees, Shrubs, and Perennial Wildflowers Available

Low-cost seedling trees, shrubs, and perennial wildflowers from the Colorado State Forest Service nursery are now available for order, as part of the 2021 Trees for Conservation seedling tree program. The seedlings can be purchased locally from cooperating agencies across Colorado

This year, the nursery is offering a small collection of perennial wildflower plants. Species include Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristate), Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus).

Early orders are encouraged as supplies are limited this year. Check out the current inventory here, but remember to make your order through your local cooperator.

The focus of the tree seedling program is to help landowners to meet conservation goals, restore forests impacted by wildfire and other disturbance, reduce soil loss, and enhance wildlife habitat. The program also allows landowners to plant vegetation in areas impacted by tree insects and diseases.

When considering which species to plant, landowners should consider elevation, aspect and soil type. Visit the Colorado State Forest Service website to find your local seedling sale and to obtain local assistance on tree species selection and ordering.

Friday, December 11, 2020


By Sharon Faircloth, Jefferson County Master Gardener

There are several blooming plant options during the winter holidays. A unique option is the Christmas Cactus.  The Schlumbergera is actually an epiphyte native to the coastal mountains of Brazil where they grow on trees and in the cracks of rocks.  The delicate 1-3” blooms cover the stems in cascading colors from bright white, pale peach to deep fuchsia to bright red.

The genus is named for Frederic Schlumberger who grew a variety of the cactus at his home in Rouen, France. While most often referred to as the Christmas Cactus, a Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) blooms in September and have pointy stems.  Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera Buckleyi) have a more rounded stems and bloom later in December and January.  The Easter Cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri) has more of a scalloped leaf stem. 

Growing the cactus is usually quite easy, about the only bad things you can do to them is over water or give them too much sun!  For most of the year, watering once a week is plenty of attention. They like lots of cool indirect light and once they begin to bloom, only water when dry.  Blooms last about 3-6 weeks and once the plant is finished blooming, you can fertilize.  The nub left after the bloom drops will grow into another section of the stem.

Unlike the traditional holiday poinsettia, the cactus doesn’t take hiding in the closet to rebloom.  The cactus will require the cooler temperatures and short days to bloom but the plant never stops growing and it’s not unusual to live 20 years or more.

To stimulate growth, avoid over watering and make sure your pot is not too large for the root system.  The plant prefers well-draining soil like a succulent mix in a terra cotta pot.  To add humidity, place pebbles in a tray under the pot making sure the pot does not sit directly in water.  Think how they live in nature in rock crags.  You can propagate by snipping the stem at the joint and placing directly in the soil/medium.

There are few issues in growing the cactus.  If you have blooms drop before opening, you are letting the plant get too dry or possibly too much of a temperature change.  If the leaf stems grow red, there is too much direct sunlight.  If the plant base becomes woody, no worries, it’s normal!

The really lovely thing about the holiday cactus is that they often bloom more than once a year. Some months after the winter holidays, you may be surprised by another blush of blooms.  For a low maintenance unique plant, try this cactus.  It’s readily available in a whole palette of colors and will reward you throughout the year.

For more information, check out PlantTalk Information Sheets #1353 and #1336 at


Friday, December 4, 2020

Firewood Insects

By Kurt Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director 

That fire in the woodstove feels good on these cooler fall evenings, but the firewood can be a source of nuisance insects being introduced into the home. Though most insects will not attack home furnishings, these insects can be troublesome for the diligent housekeeper. Fortunately, I am not a diligent housekeeper. 

There are literally hundreds of insects that can attack our native trees, however several common ones can be found associated with firewood. Wood borers are the most frequently observed insects infesting firewood and house logs. Most common are roundheaded borers, also known as longhorned borers or sawyers. Adults are medium to large beetles (1/4 to 2 inches), often with long antennae that may exceed the body length. Common roundheaded borers are gray-brown with black speckling (sawyers) or deep blue-black (black-horned pine borer). 

Adult flatheaded borers, also called metallic wood borers (see picture), generally are smaller than roundheaded borers. Flatheaded borers commonly are gray, bronze or blue-green with a metallic sheen and have inconspicuous antennae.
Borer larvae are slender, white, segmented grubs with brownish heads and rather prominent jaws. These larvae produce the chewing noises and piles of wood-colored sawdust that frequently cause alarm. This sawdust material may be relatively fine or coarse and fibrous. These borers also are responsible for the wide zigzag or meandering tunnels seen beneath the bark and deep in the wood. The tunnels of both groups are oval in cross-section, not perfectly round. 

Wood borers are primarily a nuisance. The noise and sawdust they produce is suggestive of termites and, thus, disconcerting. Because of their long life cycle, borers may be present in wood for a year or longer. They do not emerge and attack healthy trees. Furniture, wall framing or other seasoned woods are not suitable for wood borer attack. Despite producing what may seem like great quantities of dust, borers rarely tunnel extensively enough to cause structural failure. Adult borers found inside the home may look ominous and pinch the skin if handled, but are not dangerous. 

Bark beetles commonly infest dead or dying trees and then appear in firewood from such trees. Several well-known tree killers and disease vectors are the mountain pine beetle, European elm bark beetle and Ips beetles. Adult bark beetles are small (1/16 to 1/4 inch), dark and bluntly cylindrical. Infestation on conifers usually is marked by a glob of pitch (pitch-tube) at the point of attack. Eggs are laid in central pathways (egg galleries) constructed under the bark. The larvae feed on wood as they chew at right angles from the central gallery. 

Most bark beetles have a one-year life cycle, but a few can complete generations in two-month intervals. Bark beetles cannot reproduce in household wood products. 

Problems with firewood insects emerging in the home are best handled by storing firewood outdoors until needed. Outdoor storage will greatly slow insect development during the winter and limit the opportunity of insects to emerge inside a home. Vacuuming can control the occasional insects that do manage to emerge indoors. To limit firewood insect infestations, stack wood so air readily flows through the pile. Well-dried wood will not invite bark beetle attack. The drying process can kill many developing bark beetle larvae already present in the wood.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving Vegetables - What's on Your Table?

By John Murgel, Douglas County CSU Extension Horticulture and Natural Resources Agent

Thanksgiving menus are as variable as the population, and each house will be different. Some traditions are probably common across many meals, though—and can make for great avenues of perhaps unexplored and distracting conversation. To your health and happy discourse!

Mashed potatoes are usually thought of as a Thanksgiving mainstay. Potatoes were introduced to Europe from South America in the late 1500s—despite their “late” arrival a few lively superstitions surrounded them rather quickly. According to Richard Folkard, author of Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics (Published 1884), “a Potato carried in the trousers pocket is a sure charm against rheumatism so long as the tuber is kept there.”1 If the potato had been stolen, so much the better. Potatoes were also suspected of causing leprosy and various skin ailments, though later, were deemed (when mashed) an excellent remedy for both burns and frostbite.2 

Perhaps the boldest potato claim is this: “A luminosity, powerful enough to enable a bystander to read by, issues from the common Potato when in a state of putrefaction; this was particularly remarked by an officer on guard at Strasburg, who thought the barracks were on fire in consequence of the light that was emitted from a cellar full of Potatoes.”1 While this seems unlikely and very unpleasant to test, you could instead enhance your holiday season’s scientific flair by using a potato, a penny or bit of copper wire, and a galvanized nail to power an LED.3 The copper and zinc from the nail and penny are essential, the potato serves as an acid source—so a lemon (and many other fruits or veggies) would work too.

Potato can also be a verb, meaning “to provide with potatoes, or to plant with potatoes.”4 An 1862 Harper’s Magazine said, “The bread is buttered, coffee creamed, and meat potatoed, with jokes and laughter.” This creation of a verb from a noun seems pretty obvious. At least until you get to “carrot.” Carrot probably comes from the Greek, κάρᾱ head, top, related to κεϕαλωτόν, headed (referring to plants with bulbs, like garlic).5 And if you make carrot into a verb, you get “to treat [fur] with nitrate of mercury.”6 I’ll take something that’s been potatoed over carroted any day, at least on my dinner plate!

Neither the vegetal nor the vestimentary carrot should be confused with this symbol ^. It’s a “Caret,” which comes from the Latin verb Carere, meaning “to be in want of”. Caret literally means “it’s missing [this].” That it looks like an upside down carrot is a complete coincidence. Carrot and Caret. For more information than you can stomach on the former, you absolutely must pay a visit to the World Carrot Museum, which conveniently enough exists virtually, at Perhaps your Thanksgiving could include music played upon the carrot, which is a thing. Then your dinner party caret absolutely nothing.

The Cranberry was formerly more glorious than a purplish table decoration. The Druids collected them for various ceremonial purposes, and the ceremonies extended to the harvesting. “These consisted in a previous fast, in not looking back during the time of their plucking it, and lastly in using their left hand only.”1 “Cranberry” appeared in English relatively recently, from the German. Herbalists and cooks of earlier times would have known them as marsh-worts , fen-worts , fen-berries , marsh-berries, and moss-berries.7 Some of these are obviously more appetizing than others. Pass the Fenwort sauce!

If you’re still reading, I’ll close with beans. Perhaps you enjoy green bean casserole. If so, you should know that if an expectant mother in the 17th century were to “chance to partake too bountifully of Onions, Beans, or similar vaporous vegetable food, she was warned that her offspring would be a fool, and possibly even a lunatic.”1 Meanwhile, coriander would make the child a genius. Fad diets aren’t a modern invention!


1. Folkard, Richard. Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, London. 1884

2. Watts, DC. Dictionary of Plant Lore. Elsevier Science eBook. 2007

3. Parthasarasy, R and Durkin, D. Potato Power! accessed 11/10/2020

4. “potato, v. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

5. “carrot, n. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

6. “carrot, v. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

7. “cranberry, n. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020


 By Ginger Baer, Gilpin County Master Gardener

I have been gardening for over 50 years. I became a Master Gardener in Gilpin County in 2016. I participated in growing a variety of vegetables in our Community Garden for these past 5 years. All I can say about this year is that my garden was mostly a failure. Of course! It is 2020.

This led me to wonder why things went so bad this year.  I grew almost the same types of vegetables this year that I had done in the past. I decided to dive into Growing Degree Day Units (GDU), because I felt that this year was unusually hot.  We have kept track of our high and low temperatures at my home for many years.  To that end I decided to create a spread sheet to track those GDUs.

The way to calculate your growing degree days is fairly simple.

In Gilpin County we use 50 degrees as the baseline. So an example of the calculation could look like this:                          [(79 + 45)/2] – 50 = 12 GDU

So what did I find out after 4 years of tracking?

I found that 2020 and 2018 were fairly similar and 2017 and 2019 were somewhat similar.

GDUs     2020 = 1720.5

               2019 = 1381.5

               2018 = 1742.0

               2017 = 1470.0

So how did these variations affect my crops? I generally grow the cold weather crops: lettuce, spinach, radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, broccoli, as well as moderate weather crops: summer squash and early tomatoes.

2017 was a pretty successful year. I was able to share greens with co-workers and had a really great summer squash year.

2018, even though it was a warm year, was a great year where everything seemed to flourish. Again, squash flourished as did some flowers for the pollinators.

I had no complaints for 2019, except it was a cold start. Snap peas, onions, squash, turnips and even a pepper!

So what was 2020 like?  I had a lot of greens in June. I went to plant a successive crop and even though the seeds sprouted, they did not take off.  I got some summer squash, but about half of the squash that set had blossom end rot.  To me that means uneven watering, and indeed 2020 was an extremely dry year.  I did get a successful crop of Early Girl Tomatoes.  However, as they were starting to ripen in early September, we had a snow storm.  I pulled the plants and let them ripen on the vine by hanging them upside down in the basement.

I also grew some experimental potatoes for CSU Extension. I planted them June 1 and harvested them around September 20. The crop was not very impressive. I only got about 4-5 potatoes for each plant and the potatoes themselves were really really small. I would say that the largest one was about 2 inches long.

So what did I learn from all of this tracking? Not as much as I had hoped. Keeping track of one year to the next helped me see that there are no two years the same. I also think, even though I hand watered everything every year, that 2020 was extremely dry. Keeping a journal of successes and failures is a good thing to do. I also think keeping track of moisture might be a good addition to this analysis.

Well now it is time to put 2020 gardening behind and start planning for a very successful 2021. Remember to order your seeds early!

For more information on growing degree units, take a look at CSU Extension Fact Sheet, Vegetable Gardening in the Mountains -

Friday, October 30, 2020

Let Nature Feed Animals!

Let Nature Feed Animals!
By Barbara Sanders, Routt County Master Gardener

How lovely to see these large elk in our yards! Is the deep snow preventing them from eating? What can we do to keep them alive? The supplemental feeding of deer, elk, and moose is a popular activity in many parts of our state. There are several reasons to resist the temptation.

First, under Colorado law, intentionally feeding big game animals is illegal. The prohibition applies to deer, elk, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bears. Violators face a $50 fine.

Second, when the animals congregate for the easily available food, disease transmission through close contact and stress is increased. Perhaps foremost in our part of the state is chronic wasting disease in elk. Deer and elk can contact Enterotoxemia which results from the consumption of food that is too rich, such as corn, for the animals’ stomach, or rumen, creating bloating, diarrhea, and possibly death. They can spread diseases such as rabies, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other tick-borne diseases as well as parasites from their intestines (worms). These all can be spread to humans and pets

Third, luring these animals into your yard tempts them stay there and not migrate to the areas where there is natural food. The yard feeding creates an easy food source therefore if stopped, the animals will starve. Animals naturally spread out when they browse, letting the forest regenerate.

An additional reason against feeding is that attracting predator animals (lions and bears) to our neighborhoods is dangerous for children and pets.

Moose in backyard

Big game animals depend entirely on native vegetation, such as grasses, forbs and shrubs. Those plants provide all the nutritional requirements the animals need to survive in Colorado, even through the winter. There are few plants that occur on their range that they will not eat in certain areas under certain conditions. In winter they eat grasses when they can obtain them. However, when the snow becomes deep, they readily eat twigs of woody species, even the conifers like Douglas fir. They also consume shrub and tree twigs and leaves. To attract deer, moose and elk, plant tree and shrub species which provide them with a winter source of food and cover.

Some suggestions are:
  • Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii) - Very important to wildlife. Acorns are very (possibly most) important wildlife food, especially in winter. Almost 100 wildlife species use oak; quail, turkey, deer, bear, and squirrels are especially avid acorn eaters; several species of upland and songbirds utilize for food and cover. Excellent wildlife cover
  • Lodgepole (Pinus contorta) - Pines are nearly as important as oaks. All parts of tree are used and/or eaten. Pine seeds are especially important for food. 
  • Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
  • Saskatoon Serviceberry  (Amelanchier alnifolia
  • Native Plum (Prunus Americana
  • Native Willow Mix (Salix spp.
  • Buck Bush (Ceanothus fendleri
  • Woods Rose (Rosa woodsii

The Colorado State Forest Service has a tree program for farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners of 2 or more acres for purchasing seedling trees. It can be reached at (970) 879-3225 or online at (and go to the “Nursery”).

Keep our animals and forests safe and healthy!

Barbara Sanders, Colorado Master Gardener since 1998.