Monday, December 18, 2017

Poinsettias by Kurt M. Jones Chaffee County Extension Director

The Aztecs cultivated the poinsettia in Mexico long before Europeans came to the Western Hemisphere.  They used the bracts for a reddish-purple dye and the latex to counteract fever.  The plant also played a part in midwinter celebrations and was widely planted in gardens.

            In 1925, Joel R. Poinsett, a botanist and the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, sent some plants to his home in South Carolina.  He shared his find with other plant enthusiasts.  December 12th is National Poinsettia Day and recognizes Poinsett’s contribution to the holiday season.

            Poinsettias do well in the home and keep their color until mid-March.  The showy red, pink, white, yellow, bicolored or speckled modified “leaves” are called bracts.  With proper light and temperature, they accumulate the pigments that give them their color.  The flowers of the poinsettia are in the center of the bracts. 

            Poinsettias come in many colors and forms.  New selections appear every year.  When selecting a plant, choose one with dark green foliage.  However, cultivars with lighter colored bracts typically have lighter green foliage. 

           Plants with pale green, yellow or fallen leaves generally have a root disease problem, have been overwatered, had an excessive dry period, or received limited fertilization.  Bracts should be well-developed with little pollen showing on the flowers at the center of the bracts.
          When outside temperatures approach 35 degrees F, be sure the plant is well wrapped or sleeved before transporting.  Low temperatures, even for short periods, can damage leaves and bracts.

            To care for your new poinsettia, place it where it can receive a lot of indirect sunlight.  Poinsettias thrive on indirect, natural daylight–at least six hours per day.  Avoid direct sunlight, as this may fade the bract color.  To prolong color, keep plants out of cold drafts and away from excessive heat.  Ideal temperatures are 67 to 70 degrees F during the day and 60 to 62 degrees F at night.  Remove damaged or diseased leaves.

            Poinsettias require moderately moist soil.  Check plants daily and water thoroughly whenever the soil feels dry to the touch.  Plants in clay pots require more water, while those in plastic pots are easily overwatered.  Do not allow the plants to sit in standing water.  You may need to remove foil wraps or poke holes in it to allow for water drainage.

            A poinsettia does not require fertilization while it is in bloom.  However, to maintain green foliage and promote new growth, apply a balanced all-purpose house plant fertilizer once a month.  Always follow the directions on the fertilizer label.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How to contain plant-eating varmints and hail on deck planters by Ed Powers

We have lived in our house in Evergreen for the past 7 years.  And for the past 6&1/2 years we have battled plant-eating varmints and hail on our deck planters.  We started with pots that had wire cages that we built.  Well, the varmints managed to get thru the cage and destroyed our plants.  We then bought hangers and hanging planter bags and put wire cages around them.  Again, both the varmints and hail got the plants. 

Half way through this summer we decided to put pots that sat on the deck railing and put plastic sheet plastic on each side of the planters on the railing. It partially worked: we stopped the varmints from getting in. At the same time we set up a night-vision game camera to find out who the culprits were.  No luck, we were only able to get a picture of a tail.

Not only could we not discover what the varmints were, but the hail again destroyed our flowers. Out of desperation, we designed and built a modified mini greenhouse type enclosure.

We made it from a 24 inch  clear plastic roofing material (my terminology) (cut from a 8 foot sheet) supported with 15 inch high and 24 inch wide ¾ inch pvc.  We then forced the enclosure to stay in place with a piece of wood at each end.  All materials were bought at an home improvement store.

These are some of the materials used in building the enclosures.  As you can see we had outstanding flower displays after we were done.

They even made it through snow!

All pictures and ideas were done by my family.  Maybe they will be of use to you.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Ideas from the Garden Center by Sandy Hollingsworth

Gardeners are notorious for getting ideas and finding new ways to use space in their garden by visiting garden stores and nurseries. After the fall cold snap when our gardens succumb and we find ourselves sad about the abrupt end to the season, we just can’t stop thinking about gardening. 

While you may know that raised beds are a great way to use space and reach your veggies as they grow, you may like to see some ideas to ponder for next season. A rectangle (pictured) is the most common shape for a raised bed and it is generally recommended that it be 3-4 feet wide and about 6-8 feet long so that you can reach if from each end. Shorter is just fine and having two or more is often desired depending on how much produce and variety that you want to grow. 

Three tips in the mountains for new raised beds are to line the bottom with hardware cloth to deter critters from digging from below, adding row covers to warm the soil for seeds and keep insects and critters, including birds, from snatching your seeds and seedlings, and adding a hoop and cover above to let the plants grow in more even temperatures plus protect them from hail or sunscald. Row covers are synthetic fabric from garden stores or even cotton sheets. Plastic is ok for the hoop cover as long as the plastic doesn’t touch the plants - or the hot or cold plastic will likely harm the plants. 

A fun idea recently spotted at a garden center is the wall garden (pictured) with multiple smaller planters using vertical space instead of only horizontal space. Also in the photos are vertical trellises that peas, beans, cucumbers or other vines can grow up. Using good fresh amended garden soil or “topping off” an existing raised bed with soil formulated with ingredients for raised beds will give your seeds and seedlings the nutrients that they need. 

In the upcoming winter months there are many good CSU Extension Fact Sheets (FS) you may wish to read or review about soil preparation (FS 7.235) plant selection for the mountains (FS 7.248), growing from seed (FS 7.409) pest control (FS 5.569), and new to Colorado gardeners (FS 7.220 and 7.244) to plan for the warmth of next spring. 

Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference --Save the Date!

Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference --Save the Date!
February 10, 2018 at the Denver Botanic Gardens
Registration for the 3rd Annual LWCNP Conference coming December of 2017:

Our keynote speaker will be Panayoti Kelaidis.   Topics for the ‘New to natives’ breakout session will include planting for habitat, planting for year-round interest, adding natives to an existing landscape (including replacing your lawn), and “plant this, not that”.  Topics for the ‘Knows the natives’ breakout sessions will include maintenance,  rock/crevice gardening (including bare-root planting), soils for native plants, and water conservation through passive water harvesting.  We will end the day with panel with a grower’s perspective on natives.
We will also have many wonderful vendors to check out before and after the conference, and during breaks.
The Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference promotes the inclusion of native plants in our landscaping to benefit pollinators and songbirds, save water, and restore the beauty and health of nature in the places we live, work and play.

While we recommend the use of straight species and local ecotypes wherever possible, we support the use of varieties and cultivars of native species as long as their breeding doesn’t interfere with their ability to function in nature and maintain key relationships with pollinators and other lives.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Mountain Gardening Tips and Tricks

This week on Salida Yard & Garden, a meeting of the minds: guest Gilpin County Extension Director Irene Shonle and host Chaffee County Extension Director Kurt Jones share their "Mountain Gardening Tips and Tricks." Also in this episode, an unintentional poem from Irene:
"There is no use
In shooing off a moose."

Friday, November 17, 2017

Composting yard waste

Kurt M. Jones
Chaffee County Extension Director

               As our gardening season comes to an end, rather than throwing away plant waste, many gardeners will compost those materials and help to improve their soils for future years.
               Composting is an accelerated way to reduce the volume of organic wastes and return them to the soil to benefit growing plants.  Organic matter improves the drainage and aeration of clay soil.  Compost can be thought of as a separator that “shoulders apart” tightly packed clay particles to allow air and water to enter.  Compost also helps sandy soil hold water and nutrients.  Compost holds moisture like a sponge and releases nutrients slowly into plants as needed.  It also increases the activity of earthworms and other natural soil organisms that are beneficial to plant growth.  Compost should not be thought of as a fertilizer.  The amount of nutrients in compost is limited, but the improved soil characteristics make the addition of compost into garden or flower beds worth the effort.
            Choose your composting site carefully.  Partial shading avoids the baking and drying in summer but provides some solar heating to start the composting process.  A site protected from drying winds prevents too much moisture loss.  Choose a site that is close to where the composted materials will be used, but not highly visible or one that interferes with yard activities.
            Structures are not necessary for composting, but prevent wind and marauding animals from spreading plant waste.  Structures are also more aesthetically pleasing for your family and neighbors.  The structure should be large enough to handle the amount of yard waste you are likely to produce, yet small enough to be able to mix the contents and remove the composted materials.  A suggested minimum size is 36 inches by 36 inches by 36 inches high.  Some better insulated wood or plastic structures can hold sufficient heat at smaller volumes.
            The breakdown of organic yard wastes is a biological process dependent on microorganism activity.  Like most living things, these microbes require favorable temperatures, moisture, oxygen, and nutrients.
            Plant digesting microbes operate in a temperature range of 70 degrees F to 140 degrees F.  Well-managed compost breaks down rapidly at internal temperatures between 120 degrees to 130 degrees F.  During the winter months, microbial activity is slowed, thereby slowing the composting process.
            Probably the toughest balance to maintain in Colorado’s climate is the moisture and oxygen balance.  Moisture must be added to compost piles to maintain optimal microbial activity.  Too much moisture, however, will limit the amount of oxygen causing the compost to have a foul odor and to not break down.  The best description of the proper moisture level is “moist” or “damp” but not “soggy.”  The entire mass of plant waste should be moistened uniformly to the point where only a few drops of water can be squeezed from a fistful of plant material.
            The microbes that break down plants use the plants for food.  Nitrogen is the most important nutrient.  A shortage of nitrogen in the composting materials greatly slows the process.  Green plant materials fortunately contain a high percentage of nitrogen.  Other sources of nitrogen include animal waste, granular fertilizer, or bloodmeal.  Carbon is also an important nutrient in the composting process.  Sources of carbon include woody materials, fallen leaves, shredded newspaper and animal bedding.
            Smaller particle sizes greatly enhance the composting process.  Plant pieces of ½ to 1-1/2 inches are ideal, allowing sufficient surface area for microbial activity.  These different plant materials should be layered in the composting structure in 6-8 inch layers.  Use equal parts of green plant materials (nitrogen source) and dry plant materials (carbon source).  Some soil can be added to the compost pile to inoculate the pile, but research has shown that too much soil can hinder the composting process.  “Soilless” composting is an effective means of breaking down plant materials.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Columbine - official state flower of Colorado

By Ed Powers

I have lived from east coast to west coast and North to south of the US before settling in Colorado.  I have chosen some favorite flowers during that time and the top of the list is Columbine.  They are the the most delicate, beautiful and hardy flower that I have grown.  They grow almost anywhere -- and self seed at a fast pace.  They make any space beautiful, in my opinion.   So you can imagine the excitement I felt when we decided to move to Colorado where we find one of the most, if not the most, beautiful varieties of Columbine in nature: the white and lavender Rocky Mountain Columbine.

A cluster of columbine near Silverthorne at 14000 feet
It was designated the official state flower of Colorado in 1899 after winning the vote of Colorado's school children. Discovered in 1820 on Pike's Peak by mountain climber Edwin James, the Rocky Mountain columbine ( Aquilegia caerulea) is a lovely flower with a rich aroma to attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies to its nectar. The Latin word aquila means "Eagle" and refers to the claw-like spurs at the base of the flower.
There are another  65-70 species of columbines (Aquilegia) in the world, all native to temperate regions of the northern hemisphere. Many of the taller species inhabit meadows or open woodlands, with some extending into the alpine zone. In the garden, they are carefree plants that simply require well-drained soil and regular watering during dry spells. They are all late spring-early summer bloomers. Many of the species about to be described are not available at local nurseries, but are often found among offerings of mail-order specialist nurseries or as seed from seed exchanges. However, a word of warning; columbines are promiscuous and will hybridize with blooming neighbours so seeds from exchanges may end up being hybrids. If growing from seed, provide the sown seeds with a stratification period of 4-6 weeks to simulate a winter, or sow outside in the fall. All of these species are hardy to USDA zone 5 and several are hardy to zone 3.
The white and lavender Rocky Mt. Columbine has blue-violet petals and spurs, a white cup and yellow center. Blue is a symbol of the sky, white represents snow, and yellow symbolizes Colorado's gold mining history. However it is threatened by collectors who want it for their rock gardens. A law was enacted in 1925 to protect this rare & delicate flower. The Colorado General Assembly wisely made it illegal to uproot the flower on public lands and the gathering of blossoms and buds is limited (and on most public lands, not permitted at all). It also may not be picked on private land without the consent of the landowner.
A cluster of columbine at 9,000 feet
I enjoy seeing these columbine flower so much that I have taken many pictures of them above 9000 ft in the Ouray, Colorado area over the last 3 summers, including the ones in this article.