Friday, January 25, 2019

The fun of indoor gardening in Colorado during the winter

by Ed Powers
This is my 7th winter in Evergreen, Colorado and having lived 34 years at sea level I find the winters at 8,000’ a bit more difficult in caring for indoor plants such as violets, orchids, bonsais and succulents.  But I have enjoyed it here more than anywhere else, and I have learned to adapt to my surroundings.  For instance, my African Violets are in my garden room located in my basement.  Besides dealing with the thin atmosphere in the winter there is also cooler temperatures down there.  After 3 winters of this I believe I have solved the problem; I put them on heat mats with thermostats (the kind you use for growing seeds) and cover my plant cart with heavy plastic sheets. I have found that I can keep the temperature ~ 67 to 77 degrees in the cart.
Plant Stand in Basement with lights, heating pads and plastic cover.
The orchids were a bit more difficult to adjust for.  When I moved here, I brought 4 orchids and lost all of them to disease within 4 weeks.  The main problems were fungus and aphids.  What I learned was the basement, even though relatively dry, attracts these problems.  So, I spent the next 5 years researching and trying new methods to avoid such problems.  I learned that I needed to keep the orchids in plastic or solid ceramic pots; putting them in pots sold as orchid pots (ones with holes) dried them out fast and lead to death.  So, I pot all my orchids in solid pots and put them in the heated, covered plant stands that hold my violets. 
My wife’s plant table with African Violets and an Orchid
We also have plants upstairs.  My wife keeps her violets and an orchid in our bedroom on a table facing the south, in full sun, which she augments with a sun lamp in the late afternoon/early evening. I do water regularly and fertilize all my plants once a month, as does my wife with her plants. 

I also have Bonsai trees.  Like the violets and orchids, the 14 trees I brought died within 4 months.  Again, I learned to keep the trees moist and fertilized, and I keep them in warmer areas with a lot of sun in the winter.  Now I have 5 indoor Ficus trees, 5 pine and fir trees, and they are doing well.
Indoor Ficus Tree Bonsai's in basement area
I used the CSU Extension as well as the University of Nebraska websites, plus general information found on the internet, for ideas to help plants survive in my basement.  I have enjoyed this research process and will continue to improve my plant care.
All photos by Ed Powers

Friday, January 18, 2019

Winter Watering for Trees and Shrubs in the Mountains

By Abi Saeed
Coming out of a challenging 2018 filled with record high temperatures and severe to extreme drought designations through most of Colorado, we are all thinking about our yards, gardens, trees and shrubs for 2019. Although many areas have received some precipitation over the past couple of months, recovering from a drought takes time, and we need to work towards tending to our drought-stressed landscapes in order to set ourselves up for a successful 2019 season.
Supplemental watering in the winter is a reality for Coloradans, especially in the Mountains, where the air is drier. Most trees have shallow roots, found in the first 18 inches of the soil. These sub-surface roots are vulnerable to dry conditions, and require supplemental watering in particularly hot and dry seasons. A drought-affected landscape has depleted its subsurface soil moisture content, requiring extra care in the fall to restore soil moisture for plants. Fall and winter care is critical in restoring that soil moisture that plants will rely on, going into the following growing season.

Supplemental watering in the fall and winter are an important aspect of caring for a Colorado landscape in drought-affected areas. A combination of dry conditions, higher elevation, wind, increased sun intensity, and limited moisture make winter watering a critical component of Colorado gardening. 
CSU Extension recommends watering within the drip-line (the soil area from the trunk to the outer edges of the branches, similar to the ‘footprint’ of a tree or shrub) to a depth of around 12 inches once or twice a month from October through March. You can use several different methods to water, including soaker hoses, soil needles, and spray nozzles/wands.  Younger trees and new plantings require more watering than established landscape trees and shrubs. 
Watering should take place in dry winters with no snow cover. It is important to only water your landscape plants when daytime temperatures are above 40 F, and if the ground is not frozen. Restrict watering to mid-morning, allowing time for the water to percolate to the roots, before the possibility of an overnight freeze. In addition, apply 2-4 Inches of mulch (leaving 6 inches from the base of the trunk), as mulching provides insulation and helps to conserve moisture in the soil.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Snow, snow, snow - Moisture has finally arrived

By Susan Carter

Is it too late for some plants and trees?  Here in Western Colorado we had one of the driest and hottest years on record.  Drought started in the Fall of 2017 and continued for a whole year.  Parts of Mesa County only received 7” of precipitation, with counties to the south receiving even less.  In the winter of 2017/2018, for the home landscape, winter watering was a must for evergreens and newly planted trees.  Even old, mature trees had issues. 

Almost immediately in the spring, I had several peach orchards call me.  One person thought he might have a new insect:  there would be an area of leaves on the branches and twigs, and then a span of a foot or two with no leaves at all, then another cluster of leaves.  It turned out to be a combination of issues, including lack of acclimation in fall followed by a dry winter.  Orchards with rockier soils had more issues.  We often don’t think much about fall temperatures but they help to transition our trees and smaller plants into dormancy.

Peach Blossoms- CSU Extension TRA
Just like us, trees do not like rapidly changing temperatures.  They prefer to have a gradual temperature change, but how often does that happen in Colorado?  Many of the peach buds had abscised, basically just dropping off the stem.  Luckily, there was enough left to still have a good peach crop.

For the home gardener, it is easier to water a few plants in winter.  But for people that live in wooded areas, or with large acreages, this is nearly impossible.  So, calls started coming into the office mid-summer and even up through mid-winter.  The Glade Park Area and the Unaweep Canyon area, and other areas south, started seeing massive amounts of Pinon pines dying, in some cases those located on rocky ledges went first followed by surrounding trees.  We first saw twig beetles, then the Ips beetles.  Even a few trees reported to be 300-400 years old did not make it.   Besides the drought, the valley had a record number of days over 90, and I am sure at higher elevations surrounding the valley one could see average temperatures even higher.

Pinon Pine with pitch tubes from Ips
This spring will be the continuation of the drought story.  I learned in a drought meeting early this week that most of our domestic water providers in our area have been able to fill their reservoirs to 100%.  But continued snow and moisture throughout 2019 will tell if levels that are needed are maintained thru the summer.  Some reservoirs in 2018 approached the 50% mark.  The good news is the moisture we are getting this year will help plants thru the winter, and the negative temperatures we had hopefully lasted long enough to impact insect populations.  Just as we get a cold when we are stressed, trees attract insects.  So, if the numbers of insects are decreased and the trees are healthier, the infestations should decrease. 

The bad news is that (for trees and plants) it may take up to 5 years or more to show the final outcome of an event such as drought or quick weather changes.  Plants use up a lot of energy getting thru these stressful time.  The overall health before the event, and conditions after the event, will be the determining factor of the long-term survivability of the trees.  In nature, there always seems to be an ebb and flow of populations, whether it be rabbits and foxes, or young pine trees and Ips beetles.

Susan Carter is the CSU Extension Tri River Area Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent

Monday, January 7, 2019

Another Dry Winter

By Sharon Faircloth, Master Gardener
Typical Colorado winter landscape
We’re in the throws of another record, dry, winter.  The dry wind that brings those unseasonably warm days in the winter, cause substantial damage.  The seed catalogs are coming in the mail so spring MUST be just around the corner.  Hopefully, we’ll get feet of that lovely moisture-laden snow in March and April to help mitigate the stress created from so little precipitation (without the damage that can come along with that wet heavy snow)!

In the meantime, if you have no snow cover but do have water rights, consider watering trees, shrubs and susceptible plants.  Trees that are particularly susceptible are spruce, alders, mountain yews, maples, mountain ashes and conifers.  Watering can be done when temperatures can get to about 40 degrees by mid-day.  Ideally, you’d like to be able to get the water down about twelve inches and to give the enough time to soak in before temperatures drop.  Also, try to water to the drip line and beyond if possible.  If you’re on a well and watering outside is prohibited, you may want to contact a local arborist for a price to provide water, or look into getting a cistern.   Our trees are precious and water will protect that investment.

Colorado native Ponderosa Pine
Some ways to mitigate dryness around all plantings is to use mulch.  Mulch can reduce moisture loss as much as 25-50%.  It also protects soil against temperature extremes and erosion.  Try applying 2-4 inches of heavier weight mulch away from the base out the drip line. 

Colorado native plants are an excellent choice for your landscape.  Natives are already acclimated to our environment, soil and local conditions.  They are unique and attract a wide variety of wildlife including bees, birds and butterflies.  They are also more pest and disease resistant than non-natives when planted in their optimum environment.  Natives typically require little maintenance and resources, once established. There is usually little need for fertilizing or soil amendment; just keep weeds away and then let the plants go to seed in the fall.  Clean out the dead stuff in the spring and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.  As always, you have to choose the right plant for the right place for the best chance for success.

There are a number of ways to incorporate natives into your landscape.  You won’t find natives at your local box store but there are local garden centers that source them and check out the Colorado Native Plant Society website for plant sales.   You can also start from seed.

Old dried native perennials
Combining plants and seed will give you a bigger impact faster.  It’s very important to use the scientific names when choosing, as there are a number of similar varieties that are not native.  Also, if you’ve ever studied the Noxious Weed website, you may have seen plants that you like and wonder why they are being demonized.   One of the biggest problems with the “noxious weeds” are they are not native and have become invasive.  You will find many examples of very similar plants that are native for you to choose from.

As in life, we can’t control the elements but we can control how we react and deal with them.  We live in a magical environment where we have many, many challenges.  Try incorporating natives into your landscape for a unique, water-wise alternative.  If you’re looking for a new challenge, look into being a Native Plant Master! ( 

Native Plant Master program:

Friday, January 4, 2019

New Year's Resolution for your Landscape

by Kurt M. Jones
Chaffee County Extension Director 
Along with your list of getting more exercise, eating less, and losing some weight, let me offer some gardening resolutions that will help your garden, lawn and trees stay healthier as well.

I resolve to continue watering my trees and shrubs throughout the winter months…

Winter tree form
Dry air, low soil moisture and fluctuating temperatures are fall and winter characteristics in many areas of Colorado.  During extended periods, particularly October through February when there may be little or no snow cover, trees, shrubs and lawn grasses can be damaged if they do not receive supplemental water.
            The result of long, dry periods during fall and winter is injury or death of plant root systems.  The plants affected may appear perfectly normal and resume growth in the spring using stored food energy, only to weaken or die in late spring or early summer when stored energy runs out.  Weakened plants also may be subject to insect and disease problems later.
            It is important to water only when air temperatures are above freezing and the soil is not frozen.  Apply water early in the day so that it will have time to soak in before possible freezing occurs during the night.  If water freezes around the base of a tree or shrub, it can cause mechanical damage to the bark.  Heavy coatings of ice on turf grasses also can cause suffocation or result in matting of the grass.

I resolve to learn the names of plants on my property…

Suddenly the weight loss resolution looks easier, huh!  One of the first things that plant pathologists look at is what plant is being affected when abnormalities are found.  Many of us purchased our homes/properties with plants already present.  Especially if you enjoy sharing plant seeds or cuttings with friends and neighbors, it is especially important to know what plant is being shared.  A few years ago, a member of our beekeeping association was sharing seeds from a plant that he said the bees really enjoyed and it grew really well, low moisture, etc.  What was being shared was a noxious weed called common teasel…ouch!
Typical Colorado trees
I have also heard stories of other noxious weeds being shared such as meadow knapweed and myrtle spurge, both “A” List noxious weeds here in Colorado, and certainly not something we want to see propagated.
Some free resources available to help with identifying flowering plants include the Colorado Department of Agriculture Noxious Weed app for your phones or website available at  There are also a number of native plant guides available, one for mountains can be found at  Finally, to identify those pesky conifer trees on your property, navigate to our Conifer ID videos at  or navigate to

I resolve to make my home more defensible in the event of a wildfire…

Defensible space is an area around a structure where fuels and vegetation are treated, cleared or reduced to slow the spread of wildfire towards the structure. It also reduces the chance of a structure fire moving from the building to the surrounding forest. Defensible space provides room for firefighters to do their jobs. Your house is more likely to withstand a wildfire if grasses, brush, trees and other common forest fuels are managed to reduce a fire's intensity.
Creating an effective defensible space involves developing a series of management zones in which different treatment techniques are used.  Develop defensible space around each building on your property. Include detached garages, storage buildings, barns and other structures in your plan.
The actual design and development of your defensible space depends on several factors: size and shape of buildings, materials used in their construction, the slope of the ground on which the structures are built, surrounding topography, and sizes and types of vegetation on your property. These factors all affect your design.
Fire Mitigation- Before and After
            Hopefully, these resolutions will help keep your lawn and trees healthy, and your home safer during the upcoming fire season.  Good luck with your resolutions this year!