Monday, April 29, 2019

One of My Favorite Native Plants- Coneflower

by Ed Powers
As a child growing up in the Dakota’s, Nebraska, and as an adult, in Michigan, we grew coneflower in our gardens.  They were tall, extremely beautiful, easy to grow and they really set off our gardens. The scientific name for the coneflower is Echinacea.  I have tried to grow them at 8,000 feet, where we live now, with a great degree of difficulty.  But, after 3 years of trying, we are finally seeing results.

Echinacea is a group of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. The genus Echinacea has ten species, which are commonly called coneflowers. They are found only in eastern states to the eastern plains of central North America, where they grow in moist to dry prairies as well as open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ἐχῖνος (echinos), meaning "hedgehog", due to the spiny central disk, referencing the spiky appearance and feel of the flower heads.  

These flowering plants and their parts have different uses. Some species are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers. Echinacea purpurea is used in folk medicine. Two of the species, E. tennesseensis and E. laevigata, are listed in the United States as endangered species.
White Coneflower- Courtesy of American

Echinacea species are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing up to 140 cm, or 4 feet, in height. They grow from taproots, except E. purpurea, which grows from a short caudex with fibrous roots. They have erect stems that, in most species, are unbranched. Both the basal and cauline (stem) leaves are arranged alternately. The flowers are collected together into single rounded heads at the ends of long peduncles. Like all members of the sunflower family, the flowering structure is a composite inflorescence, with rose-colored (rarely yellow or white) florets arranged in a prominent, somewhat cone-shaped head – "cone-shaped" because the petals of the outer ray florets tend to point downward (are reflexed) once the flower head opens, thus forming a cone. Plants are generally long lived.

Research concluded that of the 40 genetically diverse populations of Echinacea studied, there were ten distinct species.  Only Echinacea angustifolia is native to Colorado.
·         Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf coneflower
·         Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka purple coneflower
·         Echinacea laevigata – Smooth coneflower, smooth purple coneflower
·         Echinacea pallida – Pale purple coneflower
·         Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow coneflower, Bush's purple coneflower
·         Echinacea purpurea – Purple coneflower, eastern purple coneflower
·         Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine purple coneflower
·         Echinacea serotina – Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
·         Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf purple coneflower
·         Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee coneflower

Purple Coneflower- Courtesy of American  
Echinacea, as a medicinal plant, has a long and intriguing history of use. For hundreds of years, the Plains Indians used it as an antiseptic, an analgesic, and to treat poisonous insect and snake bites, toothaches, sore throat, wounds and communicable diseases such as mumps, smallpox, and measles. It was also used by the Cheyenne, Choctaw, Comanche, Dakota, Meskwaki Fox, Pawnee, Sioux, and Omaha tribes. Early settlers then adopted the therapeutic uses of Echinacea root, and it has been used as an herbal remedy in the United States ever since.

In 1762, it was used as a treatment for saddle sores on horses.  Dr. H.C.F. Meyer learned of the uses of Echinacea from the native Indians of Nebraska around 1870, and later introduced it to a doctor in Europe. Dr. J. S. Leachman of Sharon, Oklahoma wrote in the October 1914 issue of "The Gleaner," that Echinacea root was used for nearly every sickness with good results. It was also found to be the secret ingredient in many tonics and blood purifiers of the era.

Red Coneflower- Courtesy of American
Chemists and pharmacologists became interested in Echinacea and many constituents are now known, such as polysaccharides, echinacoside, cichoric acid, keto alkene and alkylamide. The extracts exhibit immunostimulant properties and are mainly used in the prophylaxis and therapy of colds, flu and septic complaints. Although there are over 400 publications concerning the plant and dozens of preparations of Echinacea on the market, the true identity of the active principles still remains open.

Echinacea was included in the U. S. National Formulary from 1916 to 1950, although papers published by the Journal of the American Medical Association described it as a useless quack remedy.  Echinacea became known in Europe around 1895. Many research studies done by doctors in Germany indicated that Echinacea is largely effective mostly by increasing the number of white blood cells, thus boosting the immune system and thereby increasing the body's ability to fight infections.

I have enjoyed growing and cultivating Echinacea, and, next to Columbine and Roses, it has become one of my favorites.

Resources US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health
The Spruce
Colorado State University/ Garden Notes
Sunset magazine/ Your guide to growing Coneflowers
University of Pittsburgh
USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center

Friday, April 19, 2019

Creating Native Bee Habitat in your Backyard

by Abi Saeed, Garfield County Agri/Horticulture and Natural Resources Extension Agent

Just like us, pollinators need two main things in order to survive: food (floral resources) and shelter (nesting materials and habitat).

Bee on Black-eyed Susan (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Pollinators, like bees, butterflies, birds, bats, etc., play an enormous role in our lives, affecting agriculture, the economy, wildlife and plant diversity in the region. Of the plethora of animals referred to as pollinators, bees are the most important because of a key part of their anatomy: their fuzziness (aka: the tiny hairs that they have all over their bodies). Bees are covered with these branched hairs specialized for collecting pollen, and different bees have hairs on different parts of their bodies. These hairs allow them to be the incredible pollen-carrying critters that we know and love.

Colorado is home to 946 different bee species. The majority of these bees rely on floral resources in the natural environment. Most of the bee species are solitary insects, and live in individual nests, as opposed to their social counterparts, honey bees and bumble bees. This means that most wild bees need a place to build a nest either in the ground, or in existing cavities.

Due to increased development, these nesting resources are fewer and farther between. Although it is always a good idea to incorporate pollinator-friendly plants, encouraging the beneficial insects into your landscape involves more than just flowers. The nesting habitat is especially critical for our wild native bee communities to survive, and thrive, in our landscapes.

Native bee habitat in your gardens-
Ground-nesting Bees:

Roughly 70 percent of bees nest in the ground. By leaving some bare patches of undisturbed soil - it does not need to be large area, and can be tucked out of the way - you are creating safe ground-nesting bee habitat for these extremely important native pollinators. Although mulch is a useful tool for your garden beds, it creates an obstacle for a ground-nesting bee to find the proper spot to make a home. Mulch can still be used in your garden, but leave some areas uncovered to allow direct soil access for bees.
Ground-nesting Bee (Photo by Abi Saeed)
Cavity-nesting Bees:
Cavity nesting bees, which include 30 percent of the species, can be just as simple to accommodate. Welcome them in your gardens by creating “mason bee houses,” which are made from wood, reeds, cardboard tubes, and a container to house these elements in. Mason bee houses can be as simple or complicated as you like, but make sure that you follow some simple guidelines concerning the correct materials if you are building your own bee hotels. These can easily be found online with a quick search for “bee homes.” Placement can be just as important as the materials that you use for these nesting boxes. Opt for a sturdy spot on a wall or shed in an out-of-the-way area. Make sure that the structure is 3-5 feet above the ground, and away from bird feeders and water spouts that will drain excess moisture. South and/or southeast facing bee hotels do best - they have access to early morning sun and warmth throughout the spring season.
Cavity-nesting Bee Hotel (Photo by Abi Saeed)
And, as with any pollinator habitat, make sure that there are plenty of flowering plants nearby for the bees to access nectar and pollen.

For more Information:

Friday, April 12, 2019


by Sharon Faircloth
We have all been told that adding landscaping can significantly increase the value of our properties.  A beautiful environment contributes to our overall well-being and it’s one of the reasons we live where we live.  Landscaping can be very daunting.  It seems the more natural you want it, the more complicated and expensive it can become.  Whether you want to enhance a problem area, attract wildlife or make it look like you live in a field of wildflowers, all it takes is some planning!  One consideration is to hire a professional to work with you on your vision, budget and timeline.  Another is to do all or parts of it yourself.

There are literally a zillion ideas on doing your own landscaping.   Use the internet for ideas but stay on the 'edu' sites for science-based information on everything else.  To create your vision, begin by taking photos of your site.   Consider what you have vs. what you want.  What can be changed by adding rocks, landscaping timbers or water features, and what do you have to work around driveways, rock outcroppings, slopes, mailboxes?  Look at the big picture.  How does the sunlight move across your property?   Do you have soil issues?  Micro-climates? Gaps where nothing much grows? Perhaps you’d like a little more privacy? Use your photos to observe and then draw out the area to scale.  Even if you’re not an artist or an engineer, it doesn’t have to be perfect.  You just need to have a good sense of space to begin the next phase.
Courtesy CMG Garden Notes
 #411 Water Wise Lands

Consider what you see in the winter time.  Would you like to incorporate more visual interest throughout the year?  A special area to attract hummingbirds, bees and butterflies near your kitchen window?  Do you want an area where the flowers are all one color? How can colors be combined for the maximum impact and continuous blooming?  Consider form and texture and what can be added to enhance what you already have or create a whole new area.  Perhaps a new path to your entryway or a rock garden.  What about a challenging area where nothing much is growing? 

Building a rock garden and water feature 
Courtesy of Sharon Faircloth
Other major considerations are how much water you have available and how much time do you want to devote.  Picking the right plant for the right place, amending your soil if necessary, mulching and establishing new plants will improve your chances of success.  Breaking down your plan is a great idea.  Gardening can be hard work, not to mention expensive, so doing a bit at time is totally fine.  Making it a family project gives everyone a sense of ownership and pride!  Remember to keep a diary and note what worked and what didn’t and what you’d like to add or never do again.

The website has organized a wide variety of landscape design subjects for you, from choosing a landscape professional to design elements, the basics of building retaining walls, and conserving energy.  Go to the website, enter landscape design and you will find fact sheets and Planttalk ideas on these subjects, and many more.

Another great resource is the website.  Plant Select is a collaboration between Colorado State University, the Denver Botanical Gardens and local horticulturists.

Courtesy of Planttalk Colorado©
#1110 Using Color in Landscape
The group chooses to test plants for the Rocky Mountain region considering uniqueness, low water requirements, disease resistance, and habitat friendliness (although many of these are not suitable for higher elevations- check for hardiness).  Look for the PlantSelect© designation on plants at your local greenhouse.  Another great resource on their website are downloadable design ideas from professionals.  The designs provide scale, which you can adapt to your space.  You can also just use the designs for an idea of what plants go together and then you can research them for personal choice.

Take advantage of all the resources at your fingertips for landscape design and jump in! 

Photo courtesy of Sharon Faircloth, Vail, CO

Friday, April 5, 2019

Soil Prep is Key to a Good Garden

by Sandy Hollingsworth, Gilpin County Master Gardener
“N, P, K, Fe, Ca, Mg, pH…” Listening to gardeners talk about their soil can make you wonder if you need a science degree to understand it all!  Since soil health is the foundation of a successful garden, amending it to its best before planting will help your garden grow.  Spring is a good time to test the soil and see what minerals and nutrients it needs. CSU offers reduced cost soil tests which give you a detailed report of information about what is too high, too low and just right in your garden soil. Too much of a good thing like compost will interfere with your plants’ ability to take up nutrients needed for growth. I was surprised to learn from my vegetable garden soil test last year that I did not need to, and should not, add any more compost in the spring or manure in the fall as that was my annual routine in my home garden. Yet in the Gilpin County community garden where I volunteer the test recommended adding more compost for 2-3 years, plus certain minerals and nutrients in each garden.
pH and soil type chart

In Colorado, the soil is generally high pH (although this rule of thumb does not always hold in the mountains), and the goal is to build the soil to 6 to 7.2 pH for growing vegetables. The overall organic content is best in the 4-5% range which is ideal for the release of nitrogen from the soil. That is why I do not need to add yet more compost since mine was over 5%. You may find that you need to continue to slowly build your organic matter an inch or two at a time over several years, like in the community garden, which was at 4.4%. “Organic matter is also an important energy source for bacteria, fungi and earthworms that live in the soil.” (CSU Fact Sheet #7.235)

Compost and aged manure well mixed into your garden help improve the soil texture, tilth, aeration, drainage, and water retention so is well worth the work. Organic soil amendments and compost tea can be used to increase minerals and micronutrients. Gardeners can avoid chemical fertilizers or choose synthetics as preferred.
Soil Nutrients (credit Lumen Learning)

Primary nutrients for plants include Nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K). Aside from carbon (C), hydrogen (H), and oxygen (O) these are used by plants in the greatest amounts. C, O, H are generally gained from air and water aided by potassium in the plant. N/P/K help with foliage, root, flower, and fruit growth, plus disease protection. Packaged fertilizers list these 3 on labels to help you pick what you need in higher or lower percentages. Nitrogen helps green growth while phosphorus promotes fruits and flowers so you give the veggies or flowers what they need throughout their growth stages.

Secondary nutrients, needed in lesser amounts, include Magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), and sulfur (S). They are just as important to the overall health of the plant.
Micronutrients are needed in even smaller amounts and most soil amendments will contain some amount of them. Micronutrients include zinc (Zn) iron (Fe), manganese (Mn), copper (Cu), boron (B) as listed on my CSU soil test reports, plus molybdenum (Mo), nickel (Ni), Chlorine (Cl) and cobalt (Co).

Locally we can readily find amendments for minerals and micronutrients which include:

Alfalfa pellets (S. Hollinsworth)
  • Alfalfa Meal pellets for readily available nitrogen; they also feed soil organisms. It’s better to get ones that only contain alfalfa pellets.
  • Ammonium Sulfate to add nitrogen. Can also be used for side dressing after plants are up and growing.
  • Bio char which may increase soil fertility, help plants use nitrogen and sequester carbon. (CSU Fact sheet 0.509 details the research:
  • Blood meal as a fast release nitrogen which purportedly also may repel deer if you need that benefit.
  • Bone meal or bone char to add phosphorus and calcium.
  • Fish emulsion or fish meal as a source of nitrogen and potassium. It is a byproduct of fish farming and has an odor, which may attract certain animals until it settles in.
  • Kelp Meal from dried, ground up seaweed provides trace minerals, amino acids, and enzymes.
  • Mycorrhiza stimulate plant and root growth and are beneficial to soil life.
  • Phosphate and superphosphate which promote flowering and fruiting. Best incorporated into the soil in spring or fall before planting if needed, as most Colorado soils have adequate phosphorus.
  • Soybean meal (non-GMO if you prefer) with high amounts of slow-release nitrogen and potassium.  
Blood Meal (S. Hollinsworth)
According to CSU research and Plant Talk information, Green sand, Rock powders, Gypsum and Lime are often not needed amendments in most areas of Colorado (although a soil test may indicate otherwise) – they may be beneficial in other parts of the USA.

Also “in areas like Colorado, where the entire growing season is used for vegetable production, a green manure is less practical.”  For additional information, refer to CMG Garden Notes #244, Cover Crops and Green Manure Crops ( But if you can squeeze in a cover crop or rotate beds to allow it every other year it can be quite beneficial for soil health plus may attract pollinators while in bloom. Till it into the soil before it is 4 inches tall to add the plant material into the garden and plant into the amended soil.

If you have not done a soil test to get recommendations, amendment products packaging usually includes suggested application rates.

A few important amendment and soil tips are:
-          Mix any amendments well into the top 6-8 inches of soil where plants and roots grow.
-          Avoid working soil when it’s too wet as it can damage soil.
-          Once your soil is amended, avoid stepping on it to prevent soil compaction.
-          Side dressing with more fertilizers as needed means mixing it into the soil next to and around plants without disturbing them too much.
-          Retest soil after the growing season or early the next year to know what adjustments are needed before the next planting.
-          In general manure is best added in the fall to allow several months for it to break down in the soil, and only use well aged manure as fresh manure can have high salts, ammonia, and even e-coli.

For more information CSU Fact Sheet 7.235 ( provides details on wood, manure, peats, biosolids, plant- based soil amendments, both types to use and avoid, plus application tips for building up your garden. Garden Notes #234 ( explains more about fertilizing and fertilizers. CSU soil test information

After you make the time to amend, you’ll be ready for planting and sowing seeds, or planting seedlings when the soil and weather warms up for a yummy harvest!