Friday, September 27, 2019

What Have You Grown this Season ??

By Jan Boone        Photos by Jan Boone

Vegetable seeds
As Fall is coming quickly, it’s a valuable time to take stock of what you grew this past season.
Hopefully you’ve amassed new successes in plant varieties, be it vegetables (heirloom or
hybrid) varieties, new perennials or annuals, shrubs or fruit trees.  The failures of things you really hoped would work can be put aside for the “Lessons Learned’ pile in planning for 2020.  Those of us who work the Evergreen Farmer’s Market booth for JeffCo Master Gardeners took an informal survey (non-scientific, I admit) in late August to confirm what people had success with and wanted to share with other gardeners.  While specific plant varieties were not accounted for, it’s perhaps a starting point for those looking to try something new in the 2020 growing season.  The everlasting quest for the perfect Foothills tomato is evident, but a missing popular vegetable which does not show up in our survey is any member of the squash family!  Perhaps it was due to the cool and wet start to our growing season?  We all agreed that only so much can be accomplished in our average 80 day growing cycle, as well a our average early frost dates of mid-September. The usual container annuals appeared in the survey as they are popular with those who plant on decks to avoid wildlife foraging, HOA constraints or small spaces.  See below for the resulting list we gathered:

 Flowering Plants, Bulbs & Shrubs

Bee Balm                                                                            
Begonias – hanging
Black Cohash
Bleeding Hear                                                                                    t
California Poppies
Creeping Flax
Creeping Mahonia
Day Lilies
Helianthus varieties
Iris (bearded)
Irish Moss
Nepeta  (Cat mint)
Oregon Grape (dwarf & regular varieties)
Russian Sage
Yarrow (colored varieties)
Wooly Thyme

Strawberry planter

Vegetables & Fruit
Collard greens
Jalapeno peppers
Romaine lettuce
Swiss Chard
Wild strawberry

French Thyme
Lavender – Munstead variety
Lemon Thyme

As you look forward to seed saving or planting bulbs in the coming weeks, there also is the chore of putting your garden to bed for the winter.  That’s a tough one as our climate changes and some things may grow longer (or bloom later) than anticipated.  Time to dig out and maybe create a cold frame for cold season vegetables or provide protection for smaller potted plants?  Don’t forget the containers that support the favored plants you’ve worked hard to maintain in the garden or on the deck.  Evaluate what plantings have worked well and what you’d maybe like to expand upon for next year.  Consider new microclimates that may have appeared in your garden due to water (snow) packs, winds, changing sun and shade patterns as well as hardscapes; straighten out the accumulated clutter from those dead plants that didn’t survive a hot spell or a browsing deer or elk. Does something need to move inside to survive the winter freezes?  Do your beds need a hearty soil and compost boost to replenish and overwinter?  Watch out for diseased leaves if you add these to home sourced mulch for winter.  Mulching too close to stems may promote rot with trapped moisture. Put yourself in the best possible position to start your 2020 growing season, imagine  the sparkle of hellebores blooming in retreating snow, daffodils dancing and wildflowers bobbing their heads.  Those 2020 garden catalogs will be arriving before you know it and you’ll pat yourself on the back for thinking ahead.

Friday, September 20, 2019

A Tool For Understanding The Soil On Your Property

by Kristina Hughes
Clear Creek County Master Gardener

I just discovered an online tool which I think is pretty neat for learning about the characteristics of your property. You can type in any address in the U.S. and receive a report of the soil types typically found in that area.

The start, go to and click on the big green button ‘Start WSS’. Find the Area of Interest (AOI) tab. Click on ‘Address’ and enter an address. Click on ‘View’. A map will appear with a location marker on the address.

The next step is to select an Area of Interest. Along the top of the map are tool buttons. On the right end of the tool bar, click on either button which says ‘AOI’. Then use the mouse to delineate a specific area on the map. Once you have outlined an area, click on the ‘Soil Map’ tab towards the top of the page to find the report.

The report for my area was interesting. It gave mean annual precipitation, numbers of frost free days and mean annual temperature. The next section listed the typical depth of each soil layer and its composition. There was information on drainage, runoff and flooding characteristics.

There is also an educational area on the website which provides brief descriptions of what soil is, how it is formed, and more.

The information in the report is generalized for the type of land forms in an area. For example my report is titled ‘Georgetown Area, Part of Clear Creek, Gilpin & Park Counties’. To get specific, detailed information for planting on my property I still need a soil test, but I found this report from the Natural Resource Conservation Service to be fun and interesting!

Friday, September 13, 2019

Raise your sites

By Claudia Dausman, Master Gardener

Raised gardens are fairly easy to build and maintain, simply a container above the ground filled with fertile soil and plants. The myriad benefits are: (1) its relatively small in area; (2) maintenance without bending over to the ground; (3) fewer weeds; (4) longer growing season; and (5) full control over the quality of the soil.

The containment box can be constructed of almost any wood, like aspen, although cedar and redwood are best. Length of the garden is only constrained by the space available, but width shouldn’t exceed 4-5 feet to facilitate the gardening of the plants. As to depth of soil, most plants need 12 inches for their roots, so 15-18 inches of soil is optimal.

The beds should be composed of topsoil, compost and other organic materials, such as manure. An appropriate recipe for a 4x8 foot bed is 8 cubic feet (cf) of topsoil, 6 cf of peat moss and 4-6 cf of compost or manure. Although not necessary, many gardens have a screen on the bottom to deter varmints from below.
My interest in raised gardens (and authoring this article) was piqued by meeting a young man, Andrew Zopf, who made a raised garden out dead aspen trees from his parents’ backyard and beyond. Andrew was inspired by Miss Gay, his AP Biology teacher in Steamboat Springs, and dreamed of having his own garden.  He began by hiking up a hill and locating some large logs, trimming the large branches, and then hauling them back down the hill to the garden site. Quite a task because most logs were 5-6 inches in diameter and a total of 5 beds were constructed. When Andrew started stacking the logs, it became evident how difficult it was to level them on top of each other to achieve a dirt deterrent seal. This created a new appreciation of the original settlers who built houses using this method.

The garden beds were built over an old compost pile so it had a good base. Unfortunately there are tall trees nearby and the beds receive only 6-7 hours of sunlight, whereas the ideal situation is direct sunlight all day.

The project the first year was somewhat expensive, since it required purchasing all of the dirt, plants and seeds. The watering system consists of a drip line from his parents’ house with a mechanical system to control the water to the desired areas. Andrew readily admits he has made mistakes, but is learning from them. Nevertheless, he has seen the fruits of success through the growth of his garden.

We encourage everyone to use the Colorado Extension office for information. It is a free service and their Master Gardeners love to help.

Be an Andrew and “Just Do It.”

Claudia Dausman moved to Steamboat in 2002 and became a Master Gardener in 2011.  Besides gardening, she loves her husband, her horses, knitting, and pickleball.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Witches’ Broom

by Vicky Barney

Witches’ broom is the name given to the strange looking knot of growth on trees and shrubs.   It looks like a broom – a large number of small branches growing from one spot – and may be found on both deciduous woody plants and conifers.  It is interesting to observe out in the forest but may be concerning if found close to home.

A tree or shrub may grow witches brooms when stressed by insects like mites or aphids, a plant pathogen like fungi, bacteria, viruses, phytoplasmas, or by parasitic plants.  In Colorado conifers, the stressor is likely one of five parasitic dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium).
Witches' Broom on conifer
Dwarf mistletoe infects a tree by growing root-like structures under the bark and into the wood. It lives by pulling nutrients and water from the tree.  It is a slow growing organism: after several years it will develop inconspicuous flowers and produce fruit that when ripe, will explode and send a seed into the air.  The seed will stick to any surface up to 60 feet away.  If the surface is a susceptible tree branch, the seed will germinate and grow into the bark, spreading the infection to another tree.

Witches’ brooms caused by other stressors rarely kill the host plant and may be pruned out to improve the appearance of the tree or shrub.  Dwarf mistletoe, however, can be deadly.  Over time, infected trees fail to thrive and may have witches’ brooms, unhealthy looking foliage, and dead branches.  The trees are then susceptible to fatal problems like pine beetle attacks.
Mistletoe on deciduous tree
While no viable treatment is available for infected conifers, proper management may slow or stop a dwarf mistletoe infestation. Severely affected trees should be removed and other trees pruned to remove infection from lower branches.  As dwarf mistletoe is species specific, its spread may be halted by planting different tree species between infected trees.  A chemical spray may be warranted under special circumstances.   Please see CSU Extension Fact Sheet No. 2.925 for more details. (

If you find a witches’ broom in your conifer and seek pruning information, please see CSU Extension GardenNotes #633 (  If you suspect a dwarf mistletoe infestation and would like help with a management plan, please contact a professional forester, the Colorado State Forest Service, or the Master Gardener program.

Vicky Barney gardens for wildlife and is a member of the Master Gardener Class of 2011.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Yikes--Bugs in Compost!!!

By Yvette Henson, CSU Extension Agent, San Miguel Basin

Last year, my compost pile became infested with pill bugs—what most of us call ‘roly poly’s’.  In the early spring, I like to add an inch or two of compost to my raised beds in preparation for planting, I noticed a solid layer of all sizes of pill bugs covering the top of my compost pile!  I wish I had taken a photo but I wasn’t thinking of documenting it at the time.  I did my best to remove that layer with my shovel and tossed them into the woods.  I went ahead and applied the compost to my garden beds.  Most references tell us that these little arthropods don’t do much damage to our plants—they simply munch on organic matter.  So, it makes sense they would be in a compost pile.   There are other positive attributes to these little buggers too.  However, they ended up thriving and multiplying in my beds, eating almost ALL of my carrots as soon as they germinated and so I had to replant!  In my short mountain growing season, replanting was a real bummer (not to mention the loss of the seeds)!  I spent quite a bit of time picking them out as I found them, luring and ‘trapping’ them under cardboard so I could toss them or squish them.

  While this was somewhat satisfying as ‘revenge’ it didn’t amount to much reduction in population. They kept hidden and multiplied in the crack between my soil line and the raised bed walls.  Finally, I got and applied an organic granular product containing spinosad that was somewhat effective.  It was labeled for pill bug control.

Pill bugs or’ roly polys’

Another insect I have seen in my compost pile are grubs! I saw these this year when I was adding partial compost to cover newly added food scraps. Beetle larvae are appropriately called ‘grubs’ and have a dark head, 6 legs near the head and they curl into C shape.  Some grubs feed on plant roots so you don’t want to add them with your compost to your garden.  Instead, screen them out of your compost pile when you find them.  You can feed them to your chickens, if you have any, or leave them for wild birds.  By the way, chickens don’t favor pill bugs for snacks. 

A ‘Grub’ ie beetle larvae

You might see maggots, fly larvae, in your compost pile if you add cooked or oily food or meat or some manures to your compost pile.  Too much nitrogen and water is a good breeding ground for them too.  Maggots have a pointed head and no legs (see the photo below).  Maggots are a good protein source for chickens and birds.  When they mature, they will fly away.   Besides not adding the above to your compost, keeping it just damp enough, like a wrung out sponge, and burying kitchen waste as you add it, will help prevent maggots from developing in your compost. 

The best way to prevent or rid arthropod invaders from your compost is to add a nitrogen source by layers to the compost as you turn it.  Keep the nitrogen in balance with the dry brown carbon in your compost. Some nitrogen sources are fresh grass clippings, alfalfa pellets, blood meal or some other fertilizer high in Nitrogen.  The way I ‘turn’ my pile is by moving my compost from one bin or ‘pile’ to another.  This puts what was on top on the bottom and what was on bottom on top.  The reason we do this is to add oxygen and a food source (the nitrogen) for the microorganisms that do the work of turning the waste into a great soil amendment.  These microorganisms will heat the pile as they feed and multiply.  A temperature of around 145 degrees F should kill most of the ‘critters’ and their eggs, plus it will help your compost break down and ‘finish’ more quickly.   Ideally you should turn your compost whenever the temperature in the center of the pile gets below 70 degrees F,  unless it is finished.  Turning it once in the spring and once in the fall is usually sufficient.  Using a compost thermometer to monitor temperature is a good idea and they are relatively inexpensive.

For more information on composting in general see,

Sometimes we get other pests in our outdoor compost piles and our indoor worm bins but I will save those for another blog, if there is interest.