Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Meaning of Plants by Sandy Hollingsworth

Plants are not just beautiful, tasty or useful for habitat. Many flowers and plants have meaning and send messages when you share them. It’s not secret code exactly but you can include a hidden message. This year has been unusually full of stories of personal loss of friends, family, pets, and people who have had past life influences. It got me thinking about flowers and plants that I commonly give in sympathy or plant as a memorial to honor the person or creature. You could sprinkle these in your home or garden or pick a dedicated section to cluster them into a memorial garden. Each time you pass by or glance at them it will bring the person or pet to mind. You may have seen memorial bricks in garden paths like at the Gilpin County Veterans Memorial outside of the CSU Extension office. These or stepping stones can be blended in a contemplative space which lasts for years.
Some memorial plants you could include in the mountains are:
“Remembrance” columbines (Aquilegia) which are a Plant Select flowering plant
Pink Dianthus says “I will never forget you” and both First Love and Bath Pinks are also quite fragrant.
Forget-me-nots speak for themselves. The brilliant blue flowers are a nice groundcover.
Marigold (annual) means grief with flowers in shades of orange.
Phlox paniculata says “Our souls are united” and are sweetly fragrant.
Thrift (Armeria) communicates sympathy.
Rosemary (indoor plant) shows remembrance.
Zinnia (annual) communicates “I mourn your absence”.
Asters says farewell. Aster alpinus or Aster noci-belgii ‘Alert’ are choices to try for higher altitudes.
An indoor plant which represents grief is aloe.
We all experience loss in our lives and these plants are a kind gesture for people in your lives or for your own remembrance garden or as part of a local community garden. Winter is a good time for reading books related to gardening and flowers. One novel you might read is The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh which incorporates some plant meanings for loss and other life events.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fall Planting Season Is a Good Time to Revisit Your Local Climatic and Site Conditions For Proper Plant Selection and Placement - By Pete Biggam

For many of us, fall is a fine time to plant many perennials. The soil and air are cooler and sunlight is less intense, so the weather's less stressful for newcomer plants. Competition from weeds isn't likely to be a big problem, either.
In many of our high altitude areas, rainfall becomes more regular, too, which helps provide the moisture the perennials need to start good root growth. Yes, the perennials will soon head into winter dormancy, but fall planting often gives these perennials a head start over their spring-planted counterparts.
In spring, the fall-planted perennials should be raring to grow, larger and more robust.

Prior to planting, you may want to confirm your local plant hardiness zones and take a look at your local site conditions to see if you may have some beneficial (or detrimental) microclimatic conditions that may allow you to utilize better adapted plants in these areas.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Maps

The 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the current standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones.

If your hardiness zone has changed in this edition of the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map (PHZM), it does not mean you should start pulling plants out of your garden or change what you are growing. What is thriving in your yard will most likely continue to thrive.

Hardiness zones are based on the average annual extreme minimum temperature during a 30-year period in the past, not the lowest temperature that has ever occurred in the past or might occur in the future. Gardeners should keep that in mind when selecting plants, especially if they choose to "push" their hardiness zone by growing plants not rated for their zone. In addition, although this edition of the USDA PHZM is drawn in the most detailed scale to date, there might still be microclimates that are too small to show up on the map.  is a relatively new reference website that contains several interactive maps and tools to assist gardeners, botanists, farmers and horticulturalists. By entering a ZIP code, users can find not only the new USDA Plant Hardiness Zone, but also the first and last frost dates, heat zones, drought conditions and annual climatology for their area, that the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone website does not provide.

Here’s some examples of plant hardiness zones and climatic data for Idaho Springs, Evergreen, Bailey, and Conifer, and you will notice that even those some of these areas have the same plant hardiness zones, they have different first and last frost dates which you should account for in your plant selection and garden management strategy.


Microclimates, which are fine-scale climate variations, can be small heat islands—such as those caused by blacktop and rock outcrops —or cool spots caused by small hills and valleys. Individual gardens also may have very localized microclimates. Your garden soils could be somewhat warmer or cooler, or drier or moister than the surrounding area because it is sheltered or exposed. You also could have pockets within your garden that are warmer or cooler than the general zone for your area or for the rest of your yard, such as a sheltered area in front of a south-facing wall or a low spot where cold air pools first.

No hardiness zone map can take the place of the detailed knowledge that gardeners pick up about their own gardens through hands-on experience.

The graphic below depicts the effect of aspect and solar radiation on soil temperature and soil moisture that can result in contrasting microclimates on your property.

Many species of plants gradually acquire cold hardiness in the fall when they experience shorter days and cooler temperatures. This hardiness is normally lost gradually in late winter as temperatures warm and days become longer. A bout of extremely cold weather early in the fall may injure plants even though the temperatures may not reach the average lowest temperature for your zone. Similarly, exceptionally warm weather in midwinter followed by a sharp change to seasonably cold weather may cause injury to plants as well. Such factors are not taken into account in the USDA PHZM.
All PHZMs are just guides. They are based on the average lowest temperatures, not the lowest ever. Growing plants at the extreme of the coldest zone where they are adapted means that they could experience a year with a rare, extreme cold snap that lasts just a day or two, and plants that have thrived happily for several years could be lost. Gardeners need to keep that in mind and understand that past weather records cannot be a guarantee for future variation in weather.
Other Factors to Consider
Many other environmental factors, in addition to hardiness zones, contribute to the success or failure of plants. Wind, soil type, soil moisture, humidity, pollution, snow, and winter sunshine can greatly affect the survival of plants. The way plants are placed in the landscape, how they are planted, and their size and health might also influence their survival.
Hopefully after revisiting your local climatic and site conditions you can develop a gardening strategy that will accommodate these factors.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Wildflower Seed Collecting by Melissa Baynes

Autumn - one of my favorite times of the year.  The air is crisp and cool, pumpkins are in season and the mountains are bright with the brilliant yellows and reds of the turning aspens.  However, as a gardener and wildflower enthusiast, I can’t help but be a little sad that my gardening days are coming to an end for the season.  Prepping the beds and cleaning and putting my tools away for winter are never my favorite things to do.  However, there is one thing I always look forward to doing every fall - collecting wildflower seed. 

I love hiking in the mountains and, during the spring and summer months, I always am spotting beautiful wildflowers that I would love to have in my own garden at home - plants I never can find at nurseries or, if I do, they are beyond expensive.  And, I’m sure I’m not alone… it is so tempting to just dig up plants from their native habitat to transplant them to your garden.  However, I resist this urge because I know removing them disrupts a very delicate ecological balance and can result in long-lasting, detrimental impacts to the environment.  So, I take lots of
Seed collecting, however, can be a great alternative   if you just HAVE to have that wildflower you’ve discovered.  Seeds collected from our local areas will result in plants that are mountain hardy, better adapted to your high altitude garden than packaged seed and will require fewer inputs (e.g., amendments) for survival.  Plus, it’s inexpensive and will result in lots of wonderful color for your garden!
Be aware though, seed collecting is not always an option.  Federal, state and county laws prohibit seed collecting on their respective lands (unless a permit is obtained).  So, I always make a point to spend some time exploring areas where I know I can collect seed when fall comes - the land around my house, other private land and land slated for development (with permission, of course), and County ROWs.  

Once I locate a plant from which I want to collect seed, I either GPS the location, mark the plant with colorful flagging and / or take notes on its specific location and botanical characteristics. If there is one thing I have learned when it comes to seed collecting, it is that no matter how confident I am that I can find the plant again, if I don’t mark it somehow, then my chances of relocating it are slim to none!

When collecting seed, there are a few basic rules to follow. Always know what you are collecting.  There are many invasive “look-a-likes” and it is so important not to collect and spread seed from these weeds.  Likewise, check your clothing, shoes and equipment for any seed; you don’t want to bring in any unwanted hitchhikers!  Minimize your impact to the collection site - avoid disturbing habitat and trampling the soil.  Only collect from plants that are abundant in a given population and never collect from rare or endangered species.  Once you are ready to collect, make sure the seed is mature (otherwise you are just wasting it) and never collect more than 10% from any given plant.  Paper bags are best for seed collecting and storage; plastic bags can lead to molding.  Make sure to label your bag with the species, date and location and make note of any site characteristics (e.g., aspect, microhabitat).

Timing is critical when it comes to seed collecting.  Chances are, you may have to make several trips in order to not miss the window between seed maturation and seed drop.  Know when the approximate flowering and fruiting dates are for the species you are interested in and be vigilant… species, weather (e.g., precipitation, frost) and elevation will all influence seed set.  Mature seeds will usually be dark, firm and dry.  If you are collecting seed from pulpy fruits, watch for the fruits to soften and change from yellows or greens to blues, purples or reds.  Once you’ve collected your seed, clean it (if necessary) and store in a cool, dark, dry location until you are ready to sow.
Fall is a great time to sow your seed; the winter snow and cold promote germination of our mountain wildflowers.  For each species, make sure you find a location in your garden with similar conditions as where the seed was collected.  If necessary, weed the site, before sowing.  To prevent overseeding, which is easy to accidentally do, mix your sand and seed at a ratio of 6:1. Spread over your newly prepped area, rake in and tamp down lightly.

Now, it is time to relax!  Let the snow come.  Dream about next year’s garden and eagerly await your new wildflower seedlings that will germinate next spring and summer!

If interested learning more about wildflower seed collecting, CSU Extension in Clear Creek County will be offering a “Wildflower Seed Collecting” presentation on October 26th at 6pm at the Georgetown Heritage Center in Georgetown, CO.   Master Gardeners will discuss in more detail the following topics:
      Why wildflower seed?
      Laws and ethics
      Identification and good seed plants
      Cleaning, storage and sowing

For more information, please visit:

The Heritage Center’s website at


CSU Extension in Clear Creek County at
Christine Crouse, Director | Agent
Office: 303-679-2424  |  Cell: 970-389-8724
1111 Rose Street  |  P.O. Box 2000
Georgetown, CO 80444

Additional References:
Fidelibus, M.W. and R.T.F. MacAller.  Native seed collection, processing, and storage for revegetation projects.  San Diego State University.  Available online at techniques/native.html/.
Klett, J.E., R.A. Cox, I. Shonle and L.G. Vickerman.  Wildflowers in Colorado.  Colorado State University Cooperative Extension No 7.233. 1996.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, University of Texas at Austin.  Available online at 8&front page=true. 
McClure, S. and J. Anderson. Hands On Gardener: Seeds and Propagation. 1997.
Managing bushland and wildlife habitat.  Seed Collecting.  Conservation Management Notes. Office of Environment and Heritage, Department of Premier and Cabinet NSW.  Sydney, Australia.  Available online at resources/cpp/ SeedCollecting.pdf.
Rao, N.K., Hanson, J., Dulloo, M.E., Ghosh, K., Nowell, D. and Larinde, M. Manual of Seed Handling in Genebanks. Handbooks for Genebanks No. 8.  2006.
Seed collection techniques.  Bureau of Land Management.  Available online at /wo/st/en/prog/more/fish_wildlife_and/plants/seeds_of_success/protocol/section_9.html. 

Shonle, I. High Altitude Native Grasses.  Colorado Master Gardener’s Mountain Gardening Website.  Available online at grasses.html.
Shonle, I.  Mountain Master Gardener Flower Favorites (adapted from Fact Sheet 7.406, by J. Feucht).  Colorado Master Gardener’s Mountain Gardening Website.  Available online at _pics.html.       
Way, M. and K. Gold.  Seed Collecting Techniques.  Technical Information Sheet 3, Millennium Seed Bank Project.  Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Seed Conservation Department.  Available online at _014344_Primary.pdf. 

Young, J.A. and C.G. Young.  Collecting, Processing, and Germinating Seeds of Wildland Plants. 1986.