Thursday, March 30, 2017

Weed Wranglers … Unite! by Jan Boone

Musk thistle

Consider the warm dry winter that’s just ended and how with a bit of Spring moisture, weeds will soon make their annual appearance in your garden and surrounding landscape.  Whether you’re a local veteran of yearly weed battles; a new resident from out-of-state or someone who’s just ‘moved up the hill’ from the more urban surroundings of the Metro area, facing weeds in the foothills can be daunting!   As if gardening at altitude isn’t challenging enough, the dandelions and diffuse grassy clumps of lower elevations are for the rookies.  You’ve just entered the big leagues of weed wrangling!  Consequently, this is a good time to dust off your garden tools and read up while we highlight steps on wrangling popular local offenders.  Let’s review the basics from weed identification to eradication and control.   Additionally, as foothills residents, we shouldn’t forget that there are many state agencies that can help with the identification of the weed you’re looking at. (See resources listed below). After all, you can’t effectively eradicate or control something you know nothing about, right?? 

First, you must learn to recognize the weed you are trying to wrangle. Is it a native plant growing here before you arrived, that simply grows where you don’t want it to grow, or a non-native invasive plant with a potentially harmful impact if allowed continued growth?  Consult Colorado’s Department of Agriculture lists of Noxious Weeds ( that can help pinpoint and inform you of things you need to know about eradication, management and research mandated from state to local levels.  Also, in the near future, the Evergreen Farmer’s Market, staffed by Jefferson County Master Gardeners, will have their annual Weed Clinic Day on July 11th this year.  It is a one day partnership with the Evergreen Audubon Group where you can bring your own weeds, see their samples and learn about what you need to do for eradication. Be proactive in refreshing your knowledge on how and when certain weeds may develop.  Is it a winter or summer weed? Think about how seeds will spread; the growth habits that may include spreading along the ground with runners or climbing up stationary landscape elements, including other plants.   These are all some of the varying traits of a weed’s growth pattern and life cycle.

Secondly, wrangling or controlling is more beneficial when you know specific traits and can develop your best management practices.  While our weeds may seem too haunt you year-round, perhaps yours is simply an annual, perennial or biennial weed not being controlled effectively.  Knowing this alone will assist you with more effective control methods.  That guaranteed home recipe from your neighbor for vinegar based weed killer is not a winning formula.  Are you in need of some gentle, quiet time?  Grab a container and go outside with your favorite weeding tool and simply work on manual eradication.  Weed whackers may do the job quickly on grasses but can also help to spread seeds and destroy wildflowers if you do it at the wrong time! A critical note to include here is to choose wisely and do your research if you go the route of chemical or biological control. 

Cheat grass taking over
Lastly, for long term management, be patient, have a plan, research and talk to knowledgeable, experienced people who know effective control methods.  Don’t just reach for the long-term bottle of weed control on your next trip through the store. We live in a beautiful environment and many animals and beneficial insects rely on flowers for pollen, food sources and other elements to sustain their lives. Managing and controlling weeds on your property with a thoughtful plan contributes to the enjoyment of your garden and landscape.  It’s crucial for all of us, especially when considering wildfire mitigation.  I wish happy wrangling to all.  May your efforts be rewarded with bountiful outdoor pleasure this Spring, Summer & Fall.

Here’s my supplemental reference list of easily recognizable offenders, plus 5 general resources for more information.
Noxious weeds:
Bindweed- Perennial w/extensive root systems. Grows in dense, low mats.  Sometimes called Wild
Morning glory. Seeds can be viable for half century!
Cheat Grass- Several varieties are among the Brome/Grass family. Seed pods germinate in Fall, drop and
overwinter. Already we are seeing new shoots come up.
Common Burdock – biennial, grows to 10’ tall. Burs stick to animals and clothing.
Knapweed- Several varieties are found, all from Sunflower family.  They include Diffuse, Spotted and
Mullein (Common)- Found in many open fields. Tall flowering stalks with yellow flowers.
Myrtle Spurge- low growing perennial in clumps. Easily spread in shade among rocks. Sap can be
irritating to skin.  Several varieties are found, all invasive.
                                Oxeye Daisy –creeping perennial with attractive white flowers.
Thistle- Three are biennial ( Bull, Musk and Scotch), and one (Canada) is a creeping perernnial that is hard to eradicate.  
Yellow Toadflax- Perennial often mistaken as a wildflower. Reproduces by seed and underground
rhizomes.  Close cousin is Dalmatian Toadflax, both highly invasive.

Nuisance weeds:
Broadleaf plantain- A fibrous rooted perennial.  Seed stalks a favorite of birds and small
Shepherd’s Purse-Mustard family member.  Early Spring bloomer.  Generous seed production.
Sagewort- Perennial native of Europe, from Aster family.  Favorite of rabbits and some birds.
Mallow- Includes Common and Velvet Leaf varieties. Originates from Europe and Asia.
Dandelions- Crucial in supporting bees due to early Spring blossoms and pollen. Treat them as
wildflowers and enjoy the color!!
Pennycress (Field) – Annual w/large taproot. Oils researched as potential bio-fuel in mid-west. Attracts
small bees and flies.

 Resources with good colored pictures for identification: for Noxious Weed Management and Pocket Guide. 2013.  Good, basic management guide and further website listings. for Noxious Weed species (A,B,C Lists). Noxious Weed Identification and Control . Very user friendly listing by name or flower color.
Weeds of the West, Tom Whitson, editor, 2009 Revised edition, Western Society of Weed Science.
Can be cumbersome with a scientific weed family key for use, but easily referenced common name index and glossary. Beware that many plants are native plants (that can be problematic in pasture/rangeland situations).
Garden Smart Colorado A Guide to Non-invasive plants for your garden, Colorado Weed Management Association, 2012.  Great resource for basic alternative ornamental plantings, including invasive plant notations.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Spring Phenology by Irene Shonle

March and April are such variable months in the mountains.  March is usually one of our wettest months of the year, at least on the Front Range, with the highest average amount of snow.

This March (at the time I’m writing this, anyway), has been much warmer and drier than usual. I’m seeing signs of spring that I don’t usually see until well into April, such as aspen catkins swelling, and wildflower seeds germinating.  I even had a crocus blooming at 8,700’ on March 20 -- the first day of spring!  Last year, I didn’t get my first crocus until April 10.  Some years (ones with an early spring and late Easter) even see Pasque flowers (the name refers to Easter) blooming at Easter up here, and we might see that this year.  My Pasque flower buds are already starting to swell.
What causes such dramatic differences from year to year in plant growth?

Plants rely on two main cues to come out of dormancy/germinate.  One is day length – plants in the Northern Hemisphere get the message that spring is here by the increasing day length.  This photoperiodism, as it is called, is helpful to trees to keep them from breaking dormancy during a warm spell during the winter.

But temperatures are also important – on cold, snowy years, even though the days are lengthening dramatically, the plants will stay dormant until suitable temperatures are reached.   This dual mechanism helps plants to maximize the growing season while minimizing the risk of freezing.
Long term data sets have showed that spring leafing out is arriving earlier than it used to – by an average of two weeks, depending on the species (  And this year, spring is up to 20 days earlier than usual in the southeast part of the US, and it’s too early to see what will happen in the north ( It’s hard to say with certainty what the consequences of this trend towards earlier springs will be, but it will no doubt have a big impact on ecosystems and agricultural production.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Transplanting by Jeff Pieper

About this time every year, I start hearing folks say that they already started seeds for their vegetable transplants. As if it is a competition, the dates seem to get earlier and earlier each year. While it is none of my business who starts their seeds when, I always take the opportunity to address my concerns of starting too early when I hear about these early start dates.

While you may never truly be safe planting warm season vegetables in mountain communities, it is typically recommended that no warm season plants should go in the ground in my community before the first week of June. To find average frost dates for your area, check the dates here.

Now of course, this completely depends on your gardening style, and the season extension tools you may utilize in your endeavor to be the only one in the county with tomatoes. Season extension aside, let’s look a little more closely into using transplants and some of the difficulties you face growing your own vegetable transplants are home.

The most important thing to avoid is what is called transplant shock. Transplant shock occurs when plants undergo various environmental stresses. These stresses include root damage, temperature extremes, or strong winds. Plants subjected to transplant shock are often stunted or delayed meaning you could lose some of your early seeding advantage.

To avoid transplant shock, the first thing to identify is what prefers to be transplanted versus direct seeded? Some plants like curcubits (melons, cucumbers, summer squash) don’t like having their roots damaged or disturbed, so proper care needs to be taken when planting such varieties. Solutions such as peat pots that can be directly planted into the soil can be a good solution. Other vegetables, due to their longer growing season requirements have to be transplanted or you won’t get a crop before that pesky fall frost returns. A general rule of thumb is to start transplants 4 - 6 weeks prior to the last frost. Check this link for more specific details on starting plants from seed. The biggest difference between your transplant seeding dates for vegetables is going to be the crops cold hardiness. Some cool season crops like brassicas (broccoli, kale, cauliflower) will tolerate much cooler temperatures than warm season vegetables like peppers, tomatoes or eggplant.  To learn more about the hardiness of vegetables click here.

Growing vegetable transplants inside 4 - 6 weeks prior to planting means you need supplies or tools that will grow sturdy and strong transplants not tall, spindly ones. Most vegetable varieties will not grow to be healthy transplants just sitting in a sunny window, so if you are gonna invest the time, make sure you have the tools. Supplies needed include a heat mat to keep the roots at a consistent temperature, a humidity dome to maintain heat and moisture, trays that retain water but don’t drown the plants, a fertility program, and grow lights.

If you don’t have the equipment, or aren’t willing to invest in it, look for local growers who do. In my area, we are fortunate to have several vegetable farmers who take great pride in producing vegetable transplants. For many of them, the early season sales help to offset the high upfront costs vegetable farmers incur at the beginning of the season.

Remember, transplant shock can take away any added benefit of starting plants early, so invest in the proper equipment or invest in a quality product where someone already has.

Happy Gardening….