Thursday, June 28, 2018

Container Gardening

Containers come in a variety of sizes and shapes
by Barbara Sanders
Small spaces in the yard, on a patio, or on a deck are great growing places for container gardens.  If you are just starting, keep it simple.

Decide what to plant- Lettuce seeds can be started now.  For all seeds, read the directions on the packet. Other choices include: spicy greens such as mustard and Arugula (rocket), radishes, green onions (scallion), cilantro (coriander), dill, and spinach. Or purchase potted herbs from a nursery.  A few fun ones are: chives, oregano, parsley, basil, thyme, borage. If conditions are a bit drier, or in a separate pot: rosemary and sage (you may need to bring them in for the winter, as they are not hardy in most mountain areas). Adding annuals is fun too: salvia, zinnia, marigolds, nasturtiums.

Find a good location- Easy to walk to, water nearby, and light. Light is most important. Many seed packets and garden books suggest “full sun”. Well, our Colorado sun will burn most greens! My suggestion is “dappled” sun. Aspen trees offer light shade. Six hours of light per day is optimum.
Even a water trough can be used as a planter

Choose a container- Recycling places have a variety of containers and many creatively adaptable choices. Look for one with a hole in the bottom to allow the water to drain. You can drill a hole if needed. Because of our dry conditions here, non-porous containers are preferred or the plants will dry out too fast. Remember, the bigger the container, the heavier it will be when filled with dirt.

Fill the container with soil- Best to use the “soil-less” mixtures as they are lightweight and “plant ready”. Garden dirt and/or “topsoil” are heavy with clay particles which don’t allow the plant roots to breathe, and may contain weed seeds and disease organisms. Do not put pebbles in the bottom of the pot, as this does not improved drainage, and can cause a perched water table. Very little soil will come out of the hole. Fill the pot up to 1 inch below the rim. With a large container, you may want to start with Styrofoam packaging peanuts as they are inert and lightweight. A piece of landscaping cloth can be used on top before adding soil.

Now your container is ready for seeds or plants- With seeds, follow packet directions.  With nursery grown plants, check the roots before potting. If they seem winding around the root ball, gently untangle them to allow them to spread out.  Place the plants as deep as they were grown at the nursery. Press into the new soil firmly. Spacing and design is a matter of choice. Lettuce seeds can be started amongst the herbs, eventually filling in any spaces.

Water until the water drains from the bottom of the pot, then wait until the first inch of soil becomes a bit dry before watering again. Then water until water drains from bottom. If the soil pulls away from the edges of the pot, it has been allowed to get too dry. You will be watering frequently, welcome to Colorado!  Some folks use polymer crystals which expand with water. In theory, they should provide water for the plants, but in reality, they don't supply enough moisture.

Maintaining this oasis is pretty straight forward- pinching growing tips allows the plant to fill out, removing dead flowers and leaves makes the container attractive. Fertilizing is a must. A water-based fertilized added to your watering can is best. Follow instructions on the product label. You may also have some visiting insects: aphids, earwigs, slugs, caterpillars, etc. There are websites to help identify the good and bad.  Look for advice for food crops. Aphids are a pain. Water spray removal may uproot your garden. A soap-based product will work but follow the directions carefully. Earwigs can be trapped in rolled newspaper. Slugs can be sprinkled with table salt but be careful of adding too much salt to your soil. For caterpillars, the abrasive nature of Diatomaceous Earth cuts holes in their exoskeleton and dehydrates them.

Sources:          Fact Sheet No. 7.238 CMG GardenNotes#731        Successful Container Gardens

The Vegetable Gardener’s Container Bible by E. Smith
The Salad Garden by Joy Larkham  (English Author)
The American Horticultural Society Encyclopedia of Gardening by C. Brickell. Ed.

Barbara Sanders and her husband moved to Steamboat from Hawaii in 1997.  She learned about Colorado plants and trees through the Master Gardener program and while volunteering at the Yampa River Botanic Park.  Barbara finds native plants most interesting as “they are adapted to our crazy, changeable climate and to our different soils” and her vegetable garden the most fun, which she tends with her husband, Bill.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Mountain Snowberry

by Vicki Barney
A number of native shrubs have bloomed spectacularly this spring:  fragrant chokecherries with trailing blossoms, serviceberries with bursts of blooms, mountain ash with flat-topped flower clusters.  But it is the little Mountain Snowberry that catches my eye this time of the year.

Snowberry in bloom
Mountain Snowberry (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius (oreophilus)) is one of a variety of snowberries native to our area.  A small deciduous shrub in the honeysuckle family, it grows 1 to 5 feet tall and is currently blooming under the shrubs and aspens along our trails, as well as out in the undisturbed meadows.  The flowers are not showy and consist of clusters of small light pink bells at the ends of branches.   In the fall, it produces clusters of showy white berries that when broken open, reveals fruit that looks like “fine, sparkling granular snow.” (

Mountain Snowberry is a wonderful addition to the wildlife garden.  The shrub is attractive with an arching growth habit and small rounded leaves.  It attracts pollinators – bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds – and is both a host and a food plant.  It also provides food and shelter to birds and small mammals, as well as early spring forage for deer and elk.  Rated for USDA plant hardiness zones 2-7, it thrives in all types of soils, and once established, is fairly drought tolerant. 

Mountain Snowberry, however, might not be right for your garden.  One garden website warns that it may not be the best behaved shrub because it spreads via rhizomes and may be thicket-forming without regular pruning.  It also is prone to disease if growth is too dense and, while the berries are beneficial to wildlife, they are toxic to humans.  Ingesting more than a couple of berries may cause vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and sedation.   Last, like many natives, it may be hard to find at a nursery.

Mountain Snowberry
Colorado State University Extension has a great publication that is helpful to gardeners interested in planting native shrubs called “Native Shrubs for Colorado Landscapes.” (  It includes tips for planting and advice for all steps of the process, including purchasing the shrubs from commercial nurseries.  It explains why one should not collect them from the wild – the practice reduces biodiversity and encourages weeds – and touches on issues around finding native plants for purchase.  In fact, I’ve have found it difficult to purchase some native plants locally. Deciding Mountain Snowberry would be an appropriate addition to my wildlife garden, I purchased and planted “snowberry” shrubs a couple of years back.  Unfortunately, I did not order them by their Latin name (Symphoricarpos rotundifolius/oreophilus), so I am not sure what I received. Per Karen Vail’s Garden notes in Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies, ”There is a dizzying variety of snowberries available in nurseries, unfortunately most of them misnamed.”  

Are my shrubs the native Mountain Snowberry?  If not, are they wildlife friendly? Are they thriving? Are they pretty?  They don’t look quite like the native shrubs in my neighborhood: arching growth habit, small oval leaves, and spring flowers.  My shrubs are more robust and have larger odd shaped leaves, but they are thriving and attractive.  They are also wildlife friendly as they have leafed out early and are sheltering birds.  They have not yet bloomed, though, so may not provide food for wildlife.  Perhaps they will bloom later this season as they are in a shadier spot. I will wait and see and, in the meantime, will enjoy the pretty green shrubs that are drought tolerant and maintenance free.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Watering the Vegetable Garden

by Virginia Baer
Those of us living in Colorado should be fully aware of Colorado Water Law as it applies to domestic water rights and crop irrigation. Those gardeners who are fortunate enough to live in a municipality that supplies their water do not feel the restriction of water use nearly as strongly as those who receive their water by way of a residential well. Further, those with residential wells that were in place before 1972 do not feel the restrictions in place as those who have wells drilled after 1972 where outside irrigation is prohibited. (But do note that even those with household-use only wells are allowed to collect up to 110 gallons of rainwater from a residential roof). Water restrictions or not, as gardeners we should all be aware of the importance of being conservative with our water use. This is especially important in 2018 where over half of our state is experiencing drought anywhere from moderate to extreme.

If you have healthy, well amended soil you have a good chance for having soil that will hold sufficient water for your plants to thrive. Organic matter in the soil should be at 4%-5% of the makeup of the soil. Sandy soil needs amendments to give the soil more structure so that the water does not run through it too quickly. Clayey soil needs amendments to give the soil pores so that it can breathe and the roots have room to expand. Also, amendments in clayey soil help to keep the soil from being overly compacted.  Vegetable plants utilize about ¼ inch of water per day. This may vary depending on temperature,wind and soil condition. Therefore, water a garden 1 inch would require watering every 4th day.
Checking Soil Moisture
Checking your soil moisture is important so that the gardener can determine whether or not the garden has sufficient moisture. The gardener should irrigate the garden once the soil feels dry to the touch at a depth of 2-4 inches. I have found that using a houseplant watering meter to be very helpful in evaluating the soil moisture content.

Image result for checking garden soil moisture
Manually checking soil moisture with finger

Other Methods for Conserving Water
o  Plant in blocks, rather than rows. This creates shade for roots and reduces evaporation.

o  Control weeds that compete with vegetables for water.

o  Protect plants and soil from wind with windbreaks to reduce evaporation.

o  I have had the best success with using floating row covers.  These provide moderate shade and help to reduce evaporation, while still allowing adequate sunlight and rain water to get through.

Critical Water Periods for Vegetables
Be aware of the most critical times to water your garden. Water is most critical during seed germination, the first few weeks of development, immediately after transplanting, and during flowering and fruit production.  There are many methods that we can employ to be efficient in the use of water in our vegetable gardens while at the same time realizing that an adequate supply of water during the growing season is directly related to the quality and yields of our produce. There are several methods that can be used to conserve water and still have a productive vegetable garden.
Hand watering
The simplest and often most efficient method of watering is just to hand-water with a hose. This allows the gardener to see exactly the amount of water that is needed, and to direct it to specific plants.
Drip system
Drip System Watering
Utilizing a drip system can reduce the need for watering up to 50% over sprinkler irrigation. It is especially efficient for block styled gardens and raised beds. Soaker hoses, in-line tubing with emitters and bubblers or drippers are all methods that can be utilized in a drip system.  Soakers can be buried a little under the soil or mulch. Burying the hose can also protect it from early breakdown by the sunlight.  One challenge of a drip system is the need for clean water. If the water source is not clean the hoses can become clogged.
Sprinkler Irrigation
With sprinkler irrigation, the amount of water being delivered can be easily measured. Sprinkler irrigation should discouraged on vegetables prone to foliar diseases such as Early Blight (tomatoes, peppers, and potatoes).  Sprinkler irrigation also soaks the entire ground thus promoting weed growth, and it also evaporates more in the air, and thus is less efficient.
Furrow Irrigation
For gardeners who have irrigation water from a ditch, furrow irrigation in the traditional row-style garden layout may be the easiest way to water your vegetables, but not necessarily the most water-efficient. Soil erosion, potential weed deposition and runoff are major disadvantages of furrow irrigation.

For more in depth reading about watering the vegetable garden and irrigation of the garden please refer to the following CMG GardenNotes, which can be found at   

#714  Irrigating the Vegetable Garden

Friday, June 8, 2018

by Estella Heitman
Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum)
     Every gardening enthusiast has a "pet peeve" or two.  For this gardener, it is the Oxeye Daisy.  This daisy is native to Europe and was introduced to America intentionally as an ornamental and accidentally as a contaminant of imported hay and grain seeds.  It has spread to virtually every state, and in Colorado it is now included on the B List of Noxious Weeds.   Noxious weeds are not just plants out of place; they are non-native plants that are displacing native vegetation and disrupting ecosystems.  List B plants are those for which The Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture, the Colorado Noxious Weed Advisory Committee & local governments are developing and implementing plans to stop the spread of the species.  The greatest impact of the oxeye daisy is on forage production of infested pastures and meadows.  Cattle avoid grazing oxeye daisy.  Dense stands of oxeye daisy decrease plant diversity. 

     These facts are often unknown and/or disregarded by non-professional gardeners - and frequently by property owners who have little interest in gardening but enjoy the vista of acreage covered with these attractive bloomers.  Because the oxeye daisy is such a pretty plant, proper management is often neglected and the plants increase at an alarming rate and compete perniciously with more desirable plant life.  This gardener has, in fact, heard friends and neighbors express great pride in these plants which spread and cover otherwise untended land, requiring little moisture and virtually no care. The oxeye daisy is  often confused with  the Shasta daisy (Leucanthemum x  superbum), a plant that is also a non-native ornamental, although it has a clumping rather than spreading root system and is not considered an invasive plant. 
     The oxeye daisy is a perennial which reproduces primarily by seed, although underground rhizomes contribute to the plant propagation.  Each flower may produce 100 to 250 seeds.  A singly plant may produce up to 26,000 seeds seasonally.  Educational awareness regarding the oxeye daisy and proper management strategies are important for our environment, for our grazing lands, and for the natural beauty of our mountain neighborhoods. For areas with established oxeye daisy invasion recommended controls include mowing as soon as buds appear and continued mowing through the growing season  Hand pulling may be practical for controlling small populations of oxeye daisy, since root systems are shallow and the plant can be dug up and removed.  Herbicides are another option.  Persistent preventative measures may have to be continued for many years since the seeds remain viable in the soil for long periods of time.

Estella Heitman is a Master Gardener who has made her retirement home here in Routt County for the past nine years after many years of part-time residence.  Migrating from the mid-west, she had many, many lessons to learn as a transplanted high-country gardener.  She enjoys the challenges and joys of gardening in the mountains at 8000 feet elevation at her home near Stagecoach Reservoir.

Friday, June 1, 2018

A native in the garden: Oregon grape

by Vicky Barney
   This spring, everywhere I look - on the trail and in my yard - I see pretty clusters of small bright yellow flowers above holly-shaped spiny leaves, leaves that are mostly rich green and may have spots of orange and red.  These small woody shrubs are Oregon grape, named for their edible but tart grape-like berries that appear later in the summer.

     The tall form of Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium or Berberis aquifolium) is the state flower of Oregon and grows 3 – 6 feet tall.  The plant I am seeing is much smaller (1 – 2 feet tall) and is Creeping Oregon grape (Mahonia repens or Berberis repens).
     This broadleaf evergreen plant has many names – Oregon grape, Oregon grapeholly, Holly-grape, Mountain holly – which is confusing because it is neither a grape nor a holly. Creeping Oregon grape may also be called creeping mahonia, creeping barberry, or prostrate barberry.  Even the Latin names are confusing.   The plant is sometimes listed with the genus Mahonia and sometimes with the genus Berberis.  Further, botanists are not in agreement whether the creeping form is a subspecies of the taller form, or a species of its own, resulting in yet more Latin names for the smaller form (Mahonia aquifolium var. repens or Berberis aquifolium var. repens).
     Once you know the various names, you can find a wealth of information about Oregon grape.  Both forms are native to the western United States, and the creeping form is native to our area.  It may be found in complete shade, partial shade, and even in open areas.  This time of year, you can see the bright yellow flowers along popular hiking trails in this area as well as on the Front Range. 
     The Creeping Oregon grape in my yard is growing unattended under and around the edges of conifers, chokecherries and serviceberries, sheltered from winter sun and drying winds.  It is growing in a sprawling fashion in some areas and is tall and leggy in other places.  Some flowers perch on stems over 2 feet tall.  It is a wonderful plant for those of us who garden for wildlife: the early blooming flowers provide nectar and pollen for bees and butterflies, and summer berries provide food for the birds.
     Creeping Oregon grape is a great plant to actively cultivate in our gardens as well.  It tolerates sun, likes the shade, requires very little water once it is established, and is rarely browsed by deer.   Pruning will result in shorter, denser plants that make for great ground cover in shady areas.  It also can stabilize hillsides with its underground growth habit, and is resistant to wildfire.   Medicinal and edible uses are detailed in “Edible & Medicinal Plants of the Southern Rockies” by Mary O’Brien and Karen Vail.
     With its striking yellow flowers set against shiny leaves in reds and greens in spring, followed by pretty blue berries in summer, and ending with leaves in all shades of red in the fall, Oregon grape adds interest and value to our yards all season long.
Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.