Thursday, May 24, 2018

Season Extension: Start Seeds Indoors

 by Ellyn Myller
The snow has gone from around the house, there’s been one decently warm weekend to putter in the yard, and a bed suffering from snow compaction has been readied for seeds that won’t be planted until the first week in June.  Even then the frost covers will be ready to throw on if the temperatures look to dip below freezing.   Our growing season is short in the valley so how do we get things to grow that take more days or growing degree units in which to mature? 

This can be accomplished by using season extension methods such as starting seeds indoors, green house growing, or lighted hoop houses over raised garden beds.  This year I am experimenting with starting seeds indoors.   It is recommended that you begin seeds inside 6-8 weeks before the last average frost, which is June 15 in Steamboat, right about end of April beginning of May.  I’m starting cabbage, butternut and acorn squash, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and tomatoes.  I’ve started some peas too, although I’ve had good success directly sowing them and may do so to observe and compare results. 

There are a variety of seed starting supplies available in the stores as well as seed starting potting mix, which is recommended.  The method I used was to dampen the potting mix in a large tub before putting it fairly densely into a variety of small 2- 3”pots.  I used cleaned and recycled nursery pots and chose degradable peat pots for the cabbage and peas to reduce transplanting shock.  Plant 2-3 seeds in each pot to insure to get one plant growing in each pot.  Plant the seed according to the depth on the seed package or a rule of thumb is no deeper than four times the size of the seed. 

          Water carefully.  Begin by simply misting with a spray bottle so as to not disturb the seeds.  Do not let the soil dry out, but don’t soak it either as this can inhibit seedling growth.  Cover with plastic sheets, the provided clear covers to purchased trays, even glass.  Place in a cool location 60-70 degree room, but not in direct sunlight until they have germinated.   Gradually move them into bright light.

After the seeds have germinated and display two true leaves (the leaves above the seed leaves), thin to one plant per pot by nipping off additional plants at the soil.  Maintain the plants’ water needs.  Over the course of 7-10 days prior to transplanting begin the hardening off process by taking the plants outside for a short to gradually longer period of time daily to expose them to wind/sun and help reduce transplant shock.  Reduce water as long as the plants are not wilting.  Transplant to the garden, continue water care and frost protection.

CSU Extension has a number of research based Fact Sheets to help you with garden planning and care.  For more details on this topic, please see:

·         Fact Sheet #7.409 Growing Plants from Seed

·         Plant Talk #1034 Starting Plants Indoors

Ellyn Myller is applying many things she learned from her 2017 Master Gardener training from crop rotation, seed starting, and “right plant – right place”.  She’s hoping for a prize-winning cabbage this year.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Dividing Perennials

by Pat Tormey
“Many home gardeners have found that the process of division is more traumatic to them, the gardener, than it is to the perennial.”

Ah, if only we could put in our flowering plants and forget them. Unfortunately, most perennials, those ‘backbones’ of the garden, may require occasional division in order to thrive.  As your plants grow over the years with new stems and new roots, they become over-crowded.  The plant may look larger, but each stem is actually smaller and weaker. 

If your perennial plants show any of the following, it may be time to rejuvenate them through division: 
1.          The flower quantity or flower size is reduced.
2.          The stems and branches are tangled.
3.          The center of the plant dies leaving a doughnut of new growth around the perimeter.
4.          The plant loses vigor, flopping over or requiring staking when it never did before, or the leaves are paler or yellow.
5.          The plant has out-grown the space you have given it.  This is especially likely if it grows in a particularly hospitable site.
6.          The plant is in the ‘wrong place’ in your garden.
7.          You want to share the bounty of your garden plants with friends and neighbors.  It is illegal to divide perennials that are patented.

Starting from the top and going clockwise: Daylilies, whole and divided.  A fibrous-root plant, cut in half.  Yarrow just pulled apart.  Sedum pulled and cut as needed. 

Many perennials in our area do best by being divided in the spring – right now! The general rule is that summer and fall blooming plants should be divided in the spring, and spring blooming plants in the fall. 

Tips for successful division of fleshy, fibrous, tuber, and rhizome perennials

1.          The day before, water the plant thoroughly. 
2.          Try to select a day that will be overcast and not too hot.  Then work either in the cool of morning when the plant is fully hydrated or late afternoon when the night will allow for better recovery.  Exposed roots dry out quickly.
3.          Dig the hole the divisions are going into, or prepare pots for them.
4.          Some plants benefit by having their top foliage cut back, allowing you to see where the natural divisions occur when making your cuts and reducing the loss of water through the leaves after transplant.
5.          If the plant is large, use a spading fork to dig all the way around it, well away from the base to minimize the loss of roots.  A fork does less damage to the roots than a shovel or spade.  Then lift the entire clump out of the ground.  You may need to remove some of the dirt in order to see the root structure.
6.          If the whole plant doesn’t require division and you only want few new plants, you can dig or cut out clumps around the edges.  The parent plant will recover quickly and appear unchanged.
7.          Remove all weeds and grasses before you replant!  Inspect the plant for unhealthy parts, usually an old woody center or rotten roots.  Eliminate them. 
8.          For fibrous rooted plants, use a spade (or two), an old bread knife, or your fingers to separate the clump into plants the size you want.  Very old and well established perennials, like day lilies or astilbe may require more aggressive handling.  I have heard of people using saws!
9.          Keep the divisions moist and shaded.  Save the youngest pieces for replanting, usually the ones at the edge of the plant.  Each piece should have roots and a minimum of 2 buds / piece of the crown.  Discard the rest.  The larger the pieces, the sooner the plant will bloom again. 
10.       Plant each division in a hole twice its size.  Fill in with good quality soil mixed with organic matter, keeping the plant at its original depth.  Don’t feed with nitrogen until the following year ­- nitrogen encourages top growth and the divisions need to focus on their roots.
11.       Water well.  If the weather is especially hot and sunny, you may need to add a sunshade for a few days.

There are a number of other techniques for propagating plants, shrubs and trees: stem, leaf or root cutting, layering, grafting, budding, scaling, scooping, scoring, offsets, runners, etc.  They are beyond the scope of this article; but what fun they might be!

Pat Tormey retired and moved to Steamboat in 2014 where she quickly learned that raising plants in this environment was very different than the decades spent raising vegetables in the Midwest.  She took the Master Gardener class (2015) and has enjoyed learning more about gardening every year since.  Currently, Pat is helping out with the We Dig It! project, raising vegetables for Lift-Up at the Community Garden, and volunteering at a local farm-to-table project.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Foothills Drought Conditions, Fire Mitigation and Plant Materials

By Jan Boone

Picture courtesy of Colorado State Forest Service

We all have watched with dread the fires that have ravaged both Northern and Southern California in the past months.  As someone with family members and friends impacted by several of these fires in my home state, I can’t help but think it’s time to re-examine the more serious aspects of safety in foothills living and our gardens, for the off chance our turn will be next.

According to the Colorado Climate Center, as of January 2018, 99% of our state’s population is being impacted by some degree of drought.  The Foothills and surrounding Metro area is still classified as Moderate, but as we all know weather patterns can impact us very quickly. This includes the scary fact our snowpack is currently between 50-70% of average.  Yes, our typical snowiest months are March and April, so as I write, we are halfway through March and we’ve only received half our normal snowfall.   Follow their website at (

Since our surrounding environment is heavily forested with peaks and canyons and our climate is arid, we’re at a high risk for wildland fire destruction  The potential of a wildland fire impacts most every aspect of our daily living.  Here’s a challenge: when was the last time you considered fire mitigation around your house and property??  Consider places where wildlands meet more urban-based building structures and how they can be defended against fire.

The Colorado State Forest Service ( has great guidelines on recognizing the Home Ignition Zones that starts with two basic principles: Structure Ignitability (your house and surrounding facilities) and Defensible space (the area around your home).  While it’s true your homeowner’s insurance may help point out potential hazards they see on and around your immediate house structure, there are still greenhouses, storage sheds, barns, etc. to also consider. Have you thought of little things that may prove impactful? Do you allow pine needles to collect under any raised wooden decks, or against your siding? What about your gutters?  Do you store items in potentially flammable containers up against the house?  What about the woodpecker holes in siding you say you’ll get to later or the big dead pine bough that overhangs the roof? These all may impact your dwelling in case of a wildland fire. 

Let’s also focus on the garden and space around your home. Do you worry about the dried cheat grass in a space next door? How about the small attractive pine you planted next to your house a few years ago?  The dried needles it may drop are trouble!! All of these circumstances are easy targets with potentially sad outcomes, especially in wind driven ground fires where sparks can ignite your plantings and house.  Do you watch for ladder fuels (i.e. dead pine boughs that start on shrubs, especially firs, at ground level and may rise 2-3 ft to current growth in a young trees.  These fuels enable sparks to quickly move vertically, easily turning a ground or grass fire into a crown fire at treetop level . 

Now turn your attention specifically to garden plants and landscaping.   (CSU fact sheet #6.305  on Firewise Plant Materials: We are often asked during the summer months “What plants won’t attract deer or elk”??  We can turn that question around for the purpose of this blog article and ask “What plants are more fire resistant”??  If we think of your home’s exterior space in Zones, there are 3 Defensible Space Zones: Zone 1 is 0-15 feet from your structure, Zone 2 is 30-100 feet from your structure. And Zone 3 100 feet and beyond.  Here’s some added information to help.

Picture courtesy of Colorado State Forest Service
If you you’re collecting water in Zone 1, as in a rain barrel (CSU Fact Sheet # 6.707: or maybe a water feature with a pool, you may want to consider keeping a good hose nearby, especially to help spray water on the base of the house or to water plants near the house.  A good friend in Napa did this using water from a swimming pool to help save a wood fence!  However, if you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately without taking time to soak anything.   Look for low growing ground covers and some wildflowers for this specific zone.

Zone 2 and 3 plantings may be subject to loss or damage from a wildland fire despite best efforts, but you can help protect the Zone 2 garden occupants by following these guidelines found in above referenced Fact Sheet on Firewise Plants.  Look for plants with these specific characteristics: open branches and sparse vegetation, low sap or resin contents and good moisture content. While eliminating dead or dying branches or dried diseased leaves is work, the payback is a healthier garden as well as less available volatile materials in case of fire.  Zone 3 is apt to be native growth, including tall pines.  This zone may be a priority of first responders in case of a wildland fire.  Consider and ask about plants or trees that may regenerate themselves after a fire.

Here are some good low water, native wildflowers and plants that may be suitable while also creating a reduced water need in a fire wise garden. These are also beneficial to pollinators.  A fact sheet that can help with this is Native Herbaceous Perennials for Colorado:  Also, low-water native plants for pollinators:  In early growing season at our altitude, look for Nodding onion, Firecracker or Blue Mist Penstemon  and Pasque flower to name a few. Mid to late season you can also include Milkweed, Harebells, Blanket flower (Gaillardia), Beebalm, Black-eyed Susan, native Yarrow, Aster, Oriental Poppy, even Hens and Chicks. Specific shrubs varieties  may also include Rabbitbrush, Chokecherry, Golden Currant and Woods Rose, Cotoneaster, Serviceberry, Aspen. some maples and Mountain Ash.

Native Yarrow

The Evergreen Volunteer Fire Department is hoping to hire a wildland fire educator in the coming months so watch for further information we can share should this hiring occur.  In the meantime, prepare as best you can with some of the ideas mentioned in this article.  Here’s wishing everyone a peaceful and safe season in our gardens and surrounding communities these coming months.  To those who may be called upon to help protect us in case of emergencies, we honor your commitment and thank you.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Keeping a Garden Journal

by Adele Carlson
     Recently I was sitting here looking out at the snow falling with seed catalogs laid out all over my desk, thinking about planning this year’s garden.  What should I grow? When should I plant? What goes in the greenhouse and what goes outside?  What worked last year?  What didn’t?  Should I try something new this year?  Fortunately, my old garden journals will help me with these tough questions.
     Over the years working in the gardens at The Home Ranch I realized that here in Routt County we really live in a unique area and our growing season doesn’t always fall in the guidelines of published planting guides; our best information comes from our own experiences.  Creating your own journal or planting guide will be of great value over your years of gardening in Routt County.
     There are many different types of journals to choose from but I recommend starting with either a simple planning type calendar that lists the months and dates, but does not include the days, or use a completely blank journal and create your own gardening calendar.   Both will allow you to make entries under a date in subsequent years, color coding each year with a different color ink.  After a few years, you will have made your own planting guide. 
     What to include in your journal? The list is endless, and the more you include the better your personal guide will be down the road.  Here are a few ideas to start:
·   Latest frost date and earliest frost date…and any that may occur in between
·    First spring sightings – when the first crocus pops up, when the garlic you planted last fall emerges, when the tarragon comes back (it is always so late I am sure it died over the winter)
·   When you start seeds inside and then transplant them out,  noting how those seedlings did inside and how they made the transition to outside
·   When you direct seed crops outside
·    How much rain falls and when
·    How you prepare your soil, what soil amendments you use and the date(s) you amend it
·   What you plant each year
·    Crop successes….and failures, noting ideas for improvement in the future
·    Crop rotation, throughout the season and from year to year
·    Companion planting trials
·    Diagrams and photos:  your garden plan, where you use crop rotation, bugs you encounter and the damage they do, etc.
·   What plants you like and don’t like and why
·    Information on plants you purchase so you can get them again if they are a success
     OK, time to start your journal!  It can be as simple as stashing your collection of garden notes written on scraps of paper in a notebook.  Or it can be a calendar I’ve just described.   Or you can create a work of art and include little botanical illustrations along the edges.  In the end, you will know what it takes to garden successfully in Routt County!  Now I am off to start a new journal of my own.
Adele Carlson has been a Master Gardener since 2007.  She lives, gardens and ranches in North Routt.  She originally took the Master Gardener class to learn more about weeds and rangeland management, but since has focused on vegetables and flowers.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Preparation for 2018 Planting

by Ed Powers
I live in the Evergreen/Conifer area at about 7600 ft.  I have lived on several areas of the Midwest and West and gardened in all of them. But I find this area to be the most challenging and fulfilling.  I have learned that you should buy plants that grow fast and bloom or fruit in a short period of time.  Also, do not put them out too early and make sure they are hardened off when planting them.  I have always had to do this but it is more critical at our elevation.  Also, it is not a good idea to plant before June 1 unless you are planting cool season crops, such as root crops or some types of lettuce, cabbages, or spinach.

So, after 6 years of gardening here, reading and experimental planting this what I have come up with:
·        ·    I clean my 2 raised gardens in late fall or very early spring.
·        - I bring in some tomato plants when the season is over with and grow them inside.
·    I plant beet, rutabaga, turnips and carrots in mid-March.
·    I plant the other seeds I want to put in my gardens indoors in a well-lit area of my basement.
·    I start my smallest flower and vegetable seeds in peat pots with starting soil and my larger seeds in starting sponge inserts.

·    I cover them for at first and when they have sprouted and have the first set of leaves I uncover them.
·    I transplant large plants in bigger peat pots as needed.
·    In early May I will clean my wife’s deck railing pots and ready them for flowers.
·    In mid-May I start putting my plants out to harden the off.  I put them out in dappled shade at first so they don’t get too much sun, and gradually give them more sun. At first, I may bring them inside in the evening or I may choose just to cover them.
·    In late May or early June, I plant my gardens.
·    At this time, I also trim back the tomatoes I overwintered in the house and replant them.
I then water, fertilize and tend them for the summer-hope for a good crop and pretty flowers.