Friday, December 18, 2020

Seedling Trees, Shrubs, and Perennial Wildflowers Available

Low-cost seedling trees, shrubs, and perennial wildflowers from the Colorado State Forest Service nursery are now available for order, as part of the 2021 Trees for Conservation seedling tree program. The seedlings can be purchased locally from cooperating agencies across Colorado

This year, the nursery is offering a small collection of perennial wildflower plants. Species include Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Blanket Flower (Gaillardia aristate), Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and Rocky Mountain Penstemon (Penstemon strictus).

Early orders are encouraged as supplies are limited this year. Check out the current inventory here, but remember to make your order through your local cooperator.

The focus of the tree seedling program is to help landowners to meet conservation goals, restore forests impacted by wildfire and other disturbance, reduce soil loss, and enhance wildlife habitat. The program also allows landowners to plant vegetation in areas impacted by tree insects and diseases.

When considering which species to plant, landowners should consider elevation, aspect and soil type. Visit the Colorado State Forest Service website to find your local seedling sale and to obtain local assistance on tree species selection and ordering.

Friday, December 11, 2020


By Sharon Faircloth, Jefferson County Master Gardener

There are several blooming plant options during the winter holidays. A unique option is the Christmas Cactus.  The Schlumbergera is actually an epiphyte native to the coastal mountains of Brazil where they grow on trees and in the cracks of rocks.  The delicate 1-3” blooms cover the stems in cascading colors from bright white, pale peach to deep fuchsia to bright red.

The genus is named for Frederic Schlumberger who grew a variety of the cactus at his home in Rouen, France. While most often referred to as the Christmas Cactus, a Thanksgiving Cactus (Schlumbergera truncata) blooms in September and have pointy stems.  Christmas Cactus (Schlumbergera Buckleyi) have a more rounded stems and bloom later in December and January.  The Easter Cactus (Schlumbergera gaertneri) has more of a scalloped leaf stem. 

Growing the cactus is usually quite easy, about the only bad things you can do to them is over water or give them too much sun!  For most of the year, watering once a week is plenty of attention. They like lots of cool indirect light and once they begin to bloom, only water when dry.  Blooms last about 3-6 weeks and once the plant is finished blooming, you can fertilize.  The nub left after the bloom drops will grow into another section of the stem.

Unlike the traditional holiday poinsettia, the cactus doesn’t take hiding in the closet to rebloom.  The cactus will require the cooler temperatures and short days to bloom but the plant never stops growing and it’s not unusual to live 20 years or more.

To stimulate growth, avoid over watering and make sure your pot is not too large for the root system.  The plant prefers well-draining soil like a succulent mix in a terra cotta pot.  To add humidity, place pebbles in a tray under the pot making sure the pot does not sit directly in water.  Think how they live in nature in rock crags.  You can propagate by snipping the stem at the joint and placing directly in the soil/medium.

There are few issues in growing the cactus.  If you have blooms drop before opening, you are letting the plant get too dry or possibly too much of a temperature change.  If the leaf stems grow red, there is too much direct sunlight.  If the plant base becomes woody, no worries, it’s normal!

The really lovely thing about the holiday cactus is that they often bloom more than once a year. Some months after the winter holidays, you may be surprised by another blush of blooms.  For a low maintenance unique plant, try this cactus.  It’s readily available in a whole palette of colors and will reward you throughout the year.

For more information, check out PlantTalk Information Sheets #1353 and #1336 at


Friday, December 4, 2020

Firewood Insects

By Kurt Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director 

That fire in the woodstove feels good on these cooler fall evenings, but the firewood can be a source of nuisance insects being introduced into the home. Though most insects will not attack home furnishings, these insects can be troublesome for the diligent housekeeper. Fortunately, I am not a diligent housekeeper. 

There are literally hundreds of insects that can attack our native trees, however several common ones can be found associated with firewood. Wood borers are the most frequently observed insects infesting firewood and house logs. Most common are roundheaded borers, also known as longhorned borers or sawyers. Adults are medium to large beetles (1/4 to 2 inches), often with long antennae that may exceed the body length. Common roundheaded borers are gray-brown with black speckling (sawyers) or deep blue-black (black-horned pine borer). 

Adult flatheaded borers, also called metallic wood borers (see picture), generally are smaller than roundheaded borers. Flatheaded borers commonly are gray, bronze or blue-green with a metallic sheen and have inconspicuous antennae.
Borer larvae are slender, white, segmented grubs with brownish heads and rather prominent jaws. These larvae produce the chewing noises and piles of wood-colored sawdust that frequently cause alarm. This sawdust material may be relatively fine or coarse and fibrous. These borers also are responsible for the wide zigzag or meandering tunnels seen beneath the bark and deep in the wood. The tunnels of both groups are oval in cross-section, not perfectly round. 

Wood borers are primarily a nuisance. The noise and sawdust they produce is suggestive of termites and, thus, disconcerting. Because of their long life cycle, borers may be present in wood for a year or longer. They do not emerge and attack healthy trees. Furniture, wall framing or other seasoned woods are not suitable for wood borer attack. Despite producing what may seem like great quantities of dust, borers rarely tunnel extensively enough to cause structural failure. Adult borers found inside the home may look ominous and pinch the skin if handled, but are not dangerous. 

Bark beetles commonly infest dead or dying trees and then appear in firewood from such trees. Several well-known tree killers and disease vectors are the mountain pine beetle, European elm bark beetle and Ips beetles. Adult bark beetles are small (1/16 to 1/4 inch), dark and bluntly cylindrical. Infestation on conifers usually is marked by a glob of pitch (pitch-tube) at the point of attack. Eggs are laid in central pathways (egg galleries) constructed under the bark. The larvae feed on wood as they chew at right angles from the central gallery. 

Most bark beetles have a one-year life cycle, but a few can complete generations in two-month intervals. Bark beetles cannot reproduce in household wood products. 

Problems with firewood insects emerging in the home are best handled by storing firewood outdoors until needed. Outdoor storage will greatly slow insect development during the winter and limit the opportunity of insects to emerge inside a home. Vacuuming can control the occasional insects that do manage to emerge indoors. To limit firewood insect infestations, stack wood so air readily flows through the pile. Well-dried wood will not invite bark beetle attack. The drying process can kill many developing bark beetle larvae already present in the wood.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Thanksgiving Vegetables - What's on Your Table?

By John Murgel, Douglas County CSU Extension Horticulture and Natural Resources Agent

Thanksgiving menus are as variable as the population, and each house will be different. Some traditions are probably common across many meals, though—and can make for great avenues of perhaps unexplored and distracting conversation. To your health and happy discourse!

Mashed potatoes are usually thought of as a Thanksgiving mainstay. Potatoes were introduced to Europe from South America in the late 1500s—despite their “late” arrival a few lively superstitions surrounded them rather quickly. According to Richard Folkard, author of Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics (Published 1884), “a Potato carried in the trousers pocket is a sure charm against rheumatism so long as the tuber is kept there.”1 If the potato had been stolen, so much the better. Potatoes were also suspected of causing leprosy and various skin ailments, though later, were deemed (when mashed) an excellent remedy for both burns and frostbite.2 

Perhaps the boldest potato claim is this: “A luminosity, powerful enough to enable a bystander to read by, issues from the common Potato when in a state of putrefaction; this was particularly remarked by an officer on guard at Strasburg, who thought the barracks were on fire in consequence of the light that was emitted from a cellar full of Potatoes.”1 While this seems unlikely and very unpleasant to test, you could instead enhance your holiday season’s scientific flair by using a potato, a penny or bit of copper wire, and a galvanized nail to power an LED.3 The copper and zinc from the nail and penny are essential, the potato serves as an acid source—so a lemon (and many other fruits or veggies) would work too.

Potato can also be a verb, meaning “to provide with potatoes, or to plant with potatoes.”4 An 1862 Harper’s Magazine said, “The bread is buttered, coffee creamed, and meat potatoed, with jokes and laughter.” This creation of a verb from a noun seems pretty obvious. At least until you get to “carrot.” Carrot probably comes from the Greek, κάρᾱ head, top, related to κεϕαλωτόν, headed (referring to plants with bulbs, like garlic).5 And if you make carrot into a verb, you get “to treat [fur] with nitrate of mercury.”6 I’ll take something that’s been potatoed over carroted any day, at least on my dinner plate!

Neither the vegetal nor the vestimentary carrot should be confused with this symbol ^. It’s a “Caret,” which comes from the Latin verb Carere, meaning “to be in want of”. Caret literally means “it’s missing [this].” That it looks like an upside down carrot is a complete coincidence. Carrot and Caret. For more information than you can stomach on the former, you absolutely must pay a visit to the World Carrot Museum, which conveniently enough exists virtually, at Perhaps your Thanksgiving could include music played upon the carrot, which is a thing. Then your dinner party caret absolutely nothing.

The Cranberry was formerly more glorious than a purplish table decoration. The Druids collected them for various ceremonial purposes, and the ceremonies extended to the harvesting. “These consisted in a previous fast, in not looking back during the time of their plucking it, and lastly in using their left hand only.”1 “Cranberry” appeared in English relatively recently, from the German. Herbalists and cooks of earlier times would have known them as marsh-worts , fen-worts , fen-berries , marsh-berries, and moss-berries.7 Some of these are obviously more appetizing than others. Pass the Fenwort sauce!

If you’re still reading, I’ll close with beans. Perhaps you enjoy green bean casserole. If so, you should know that if an expectant mother in the 17th century were to “chance to partake too bountifully of Onions, Beans, or similar vaporous vegetable food, she was warned that her offspring would be a fool, and possibly even a lunatic.”1 Meanwhile, coriander would make the child a genius. Fad diets aren’t a modern invention!


1. Folkard, Richard. Plant Lore, Legends, and Lyrics. Sampson Low, Marston, Searle, and Rivington, London. 1884

2. Watts, DC. Dictionary of Plant Lore. Elsevier Science eBook. 2007

3. Parthasarasy, R and Durkin, D. Potato Power! accessed 11/10/2020

4. “potato, v. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

5. “carrot, n. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

6. “carrot, v. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

7. “cranberry, n. 1.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, November 2020

Friday, November 13, 2020


 By Ginger Baer, Gilpin County Master Gardener

I have been gardening for over 50 years. I became a Master Gardener in Gilpin County in 2016. I participated in growing a variety of vegetables in our Community Garden for these past 5 years. All I can say about this year is that my garden was mostly a failure. Of course! It is 2020.

This led me to wonder why things went so bad this year.  I grew almost the same types of vegetables this year that I had done in the past. I decided to dive into Growing Degree Day Units (GDU), because I felt that this year was unusually hot.  We have kept track of our high and low temperatures at my home for many years.  To that end I decided to create a spread sheet to track those GDUs.

The way to calculate your growing degree days is fairly simple.

In Gilpin County we use 50 degrees as the baseline. So an example of the calculation could look like this:                          [(79 + 45)/2] – 50 = 12 GDU

So what did I find out after 4 years of tracking?

I found that 2020 and 2018 were fairly similar and 2017 and 2019 were somewhat similar.

GDUs     2020 = 1720.5

               2019 = 1381.5

               2018 = 1742.0

               2017 = 1470.0

So how did these variations affect my crops? I generally grow the cold weather crops: lettuce, spinach, radishes, turnips, carrots, beets, broccoli, as well as moderate weather crops: summer squash and early tomatoes.

2017 was a pretty successful year. I was able to share greens with co-workers and had a really great summer squash year.

2018, even though it was a warm year, was a great year where everything seemed to flourish. Again, squash flourished as did some flowers for the pollinators.

I had no complaints for 2019, except it was a cold start. Snap peas, onions, squash, turnips and even a pepper!

So what was 2020 like?  I had a lot of greens in June. I went to plant a successive crop and even though the seeds sprouted, they did not take off.  I got some summer squash, but about half of the squash that set had blossom end rot.  To me that means uneven watering, and indeed 2020 was an extremely dry year.  I did get a successful crop of Early Girl Tomatoes.  However, as they were starting to ripen in early September, we had a snow storm.  I pulled the plants and let them ripen on the vine by hanging them upside down in the basement.

I also grew some experimental potatoes for CSU Extension. I planted them June 1 and harvested them around September 20. The crop was not very impressive. I only got about 4-5 potatoes for each plant and the potatoes themselves were really really small. I would say that the largest one was about 2 inches long.

So what did I learn from all of this tracking? Not as much as I had hoped. Keeping track of one year to the next helped me see that there are no two years the same. I also think, even though I hand watered everything every year, that 2020 was extremely dry. Keeping a journal of successes and failures is a good thing to do. I also think keeping track of moisture might be a good addition to this analysis.

Well now it is time to put 2020 gardening behind and start planning for a very successful 2021. Remember to order your seeds early!

For more information on growing degree units, take a look at CSU Extension Fact Sheet, Vegetable Gardening in the Mountains -

Friday, October 30, 2020

Let Nature Feed Animals!

Let Nature Feed Animals!
By Barbara Sanders, Routt County Master Gardener

How lovely to see these large elk in our yards! Is the deep snow preventing them from eating? What can we do to keep them alive? The supplemental feeding of deer, elk, and moose is a popular activity in many parts of our state. There are several reasons to resist the temptation.

First, under Colorado law, intentionally feeding big game animals is illegal. The prohibition applies to deer, elk, antelope, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, mountain lions and bears. Violators face a $50 fine.

Second, when the animals congregate for the easily available food, disease transmission through close contact and stress is increased. Perhaps foremost in our part of the state is chronic wasting disease in elk. Deer and elk can contact Enterotoxemia which results from the consumption of food that is too rich, such as corn, for the animals’ stomach, or rumen, creating bloating, diarrhea, and possibly death. They can spread diseases such as rabies, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other tick-borne diseases as well as parasites from their intestines (worms). These all can be spread to humans and pets

Third, luring these animals into your yard tempts them stay there and not migrate to the areas where there is natural food. The yard feeding creates an easy food source therefore if stopped, the animals will starve. Animals naturally spread out when they browse, letting the forest regenerate.

An additional reason against feeding is that attracting predator animals (lions and bears) to our neighborhoods is dangerous for children and pets.

Moose in backyard

Big game animals depend entirely on native vegetation, such as grasses, forbs and shrubs. Those plants provide all the nutritional requirements the animals need to survive in Colorado, even through the winter. There are few plants that occur on their range that they will not eat in certain areas under certain conditions. In winter they eat grasses when they can obtain them. However, when the snow becomes deep, they readily eat twigs of woody species, even the conifers like Douglas fir. They also consume shrub and tree twigs and leaves. To attract deer, moose and elk, plant tree and shrub species which provide them with a winter source of food and cover.

Some suggestions are:
  • Gambel Oak (Quercus gambelii) - Very important to wildlife. Acorns are very (possibly most) important wildlife food, especially in winter. Almost 100 wildlife species use oak; quail, turkey, deer, bear, and squirrels are especially avid acorn eaters; several species of upland and songbirds utilize for food and cover. Excellent wildlife cover
  • Lodgepole (Pinus contorta) - Pines are nearly as important as oaks. All parts of tree are used and/or eaten. Pine seeds are especially important for food. 
  • Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
  • Saskatoon Serviceberry  (Amelanchier alnifolia
  • Native Plum (Prunus Americana
  • Native Willow Mix (Salix spp.
  • Buck Bush (Ceanothus fendleri
  • Woods Rose (Rosa woodsii

The Colorado State Forest Service has a tree program for farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners of 2 or more acres for purchasing seedling trees. It can be reached at (970) 879-3225 or online at (and go to the “Nursery”).

Keep our animals and forests safe and healthy!

Barbara Sanders, Colorado Master Gardener since 1998.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Soil Health

Soil Health
By Jennifer Cook, Gilpin Extension Director and Agent

Soil health is defined by Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as the capacity of soil to function as a living ecosystem that sustains plants, animals, and humans. Healthy soils contain billions of bacteria, fungi, and other microbes that help form an ecosystem, providing nutrients for plant growth, absorbing and holding water, and providing the foundation for agricultural activities.
Soil organisms living within a soil aggregate. Credit: S. Rose and E.T. Elliott, USDA-NRCS.

Whether you manage a large farm, a pasture, or a small raised bed, there are key soil health principles that will improve soil function. Soil health changes slowly over time, these soil health principles provide ideas for taking action now, so your soils can be more sustainable and resilient. 

Follow four basic soil health principles to improve your soil health and sustainability: 
  1. Keep the soil covered. Examples of cover are leaving plant residue behind after harvest, or mulching your garden.

    Erosion by wind and water happens when the soil is not adequately covered. Keeping your soil covered as much as possible protects your nutrient-rich top soil.

    In addition to soil erosion, cover can affect soil temperature and moisture. A soil covered with plant litter/mulch reflects radiation due to its “albedo.” This keeps soil temperatures lower than bare soils, which warm up more readily. Especially during the summer, the temperature difference between a covered and bare soil can be significant. Plants use soil moisture less efficiently at higher temperatures as more water is lost through evapotranspiration than utilized for plant growth.

  2.  Minimize soil disturbance. Examples of soil disturbance are tillage, overgrazing, and overapplication of chemicals and nutrients.

    Soil disturbance such as plowing and rototilling can impact soil by physically breaking up the soil structure and by stimulating microbial decomposition of organic matter. This includes the breakdown of biological glues, such as polysaccharides and glomalin, that are key in maintaining soil structure. Without these biological glues, when the soil gets wet, it collapses and loses large soil pore spaces resulting in a net reduction in infiltration, aeration, and soil microbial activity. Disturbed and compacted soils sometimes more closely resemble a brick than a healthy functioning soil!

  3. Use plant diversity. Examples of diversity are using crop rotations or planting a variety of species for pastures or cover.

    By increasing the diversity of plants above ground (at the same time or in a crop rotation), the diversity below ground can be enhanced. Diversity can build redundancies and synergies in the soil system which ultimately leads to increased resiliency (to drought for instance). Many would argue that this is the most important principle to improve soil health/function and increase long-term sustainability. For an added incentive, increasing crop diversity in agricultural systems has long been recognized as a tactic for increasing economic resiliency.

  4. Keep living plants throughout the year - most commonly achieved by using cover crops.

    Soils feed plants and plants feed soils. Through photosynthesis plants capture soil energy and convert it to organic compounds (from simple sugars to complex organic molecules like lignin). Plants use this captured solar energy for maintenance and growth. Most soil organisms need this external food source produced by plants.
    Many plants “leak” carbohydrates and other root exudates to stimulate soil microbial activity. Fueled by this symbiotic relationship, the area around the root (rhizosphere) is teaming with life in a healthy, functioning soil. This biological activity drives nutrient cycling in the rhizosphere. Many plants also form symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi by providing carbon to the fungi in exchange for nutrients (especially phosphorous). In these instances, soil microbes are providing services to the plant (i.e. nutrient cycling) at the cost of organic compounds from the plant. 
For more information, visit NRCS’s soil health webpage -

Friday, September 25, 2020

Flower Pots!

By Ed Powers 

For the past three years, my wife and I do flower boxes which rest on our home deck railing at about 8000 feet. We usually buy mixed flower pots at a local nursery or big box store, and also plant flowers in a fiberglass urn on the deck. Before beginning, we researched in the Garden notes from CSU, which was very helpful as we designed, built, and planted them. 

Initially, they were exposed with no cover.  The first set of plants were eaten by varmints that lived around our deck, and then what was left was destroyed by hail.  So we went back to the drawing board and designed what we thought would be a great cover to protect the flowers from hail and varmints. Wrong!  It protected against hail but not varmints. 

We finally developed protection that did both. We made a plastic roof that went from one end of the long pots to the other, secured to the railing and pots with screws. Bird netting was run around the lower half of the pots. This accomplished what we wanted. It protects flowers from hail as well as varmints.  

To our surprise it also allows some of the flowers to self-seed and grow again the next year.  Marigolds, petunias, and allysum have reseeded for the last three years. The plastic cover serves as a simple greenhouse.  However we must remember to water every day or every other day because the multi-plant roots require quite a bit of moisture,

This year has been our best year for all our flower pots. We have volunteer plants from previous years, and I grew seeds and we bought more flower pots.  We fertilize them and I water them every two days.  These pots are overrun with flowers, including purple and white Alyssum, blue and white Labella, Petunias, Marigolds, assorted Snap Dragons, Dusty Miller, Million Bells and Verbena.  In our urn, Columbine, Prickly Pear Cactus (dug up from our property), and two colors of petunias are growing strong. 

Of course the fact that we were at home a lot, because of COVID-19, helped our gardens. We have learned a lot about our gardens because of this and will apply it in the future.  We really enjoy the flowers!

Friday, September 18, 2020

Kale- An Easy Crop That Keeps on Giving!

By Yvette Henson, San Miguel Basin, CSU Extension

You may remember how trendy kale was a few years ago.  Many restaurants had some sort of kale salad on the menu and we were all making kale chips and kale pesto at home.  Farming of kale grew more than 57% between 2007 and 2012 because of consumer and restaurant demand!  Apparently, kale is used in more than 400 products!  And while Zagat declared in their National Dining Trend Survey in 2015, that kale is no longer “in" it is a crop that keeps on giving in my garden.

The first year planting of ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Blue Scotch’ curly kale in my garden.

Several years ago, I planted a small patch of ‘Red Russian’ and ‘Blue Scotch’ curly kale in my garden.  At the end of the season I decided to see if I could overwinter it to harvest seed the following year. I covered the plants with some row cover fabric held up by hoops. The following spring, although it was a little ‘burned’ from the cold, it quickly began to regrow and bolt.  I only allowed the Red Russian variety to set seed—it was the one that overwintered best.  I harvested it to demonstrate saving and processing kale seed at a Seed Saving class we held that October.  I had plenty of kale seed to share! 

My kale, gone to seed.

Seed processing demonstration.

It overwintered again, this time without protection, and I let it be there and kept harvesting it.  The next year I wanted to use that spot for something else, so I pulled it all out of the bed.  It had re-seeded at the base of the stone wall around the bed.  I let that grow for two more years, with only the water from overflow from the bed behind it and without covering it in the winter.  It continued to produce leaves that I harvested whenever I wanted them.  Last year, I thought “enough is enough!’  I tried hard to remove it by cutting the thick woody stems back at ground level.  It was quite tough since the bases were several years old and… it still came back this year!   

This is a picture of the three plants today.

Kale is easy to grow, obviously.  There are two species and main main types. Brassica oleacea (Dinosaur and blue curled kale) which will cross-pollinate with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and collards. Brassica napus (Siberian and Russian kales) which will cross-pollinate with rutabagas and swede turnips, as well as oil seed crops like canola and rape seed. 

Kale can easily be planted by seed. For spring and summer harvest, plant kale seeds four weeks before last frost. For fall harvest, plant seeds eight weeks before the first frost.  Feed lightly and regularly while growing with a 5-5-5, or similar fertilizer and water as needed (kale will get aphids if stressed). 

Keep cutting the oldest leaves when they are still succulent but do not remove more than 1/3 of all the leaves at a time. If you plan to grow kale for seeds, only save seed from plants that bolt after overwintering—early bolting is not a trait you want in the genetics of your seed.

Kale is nutritious!  It contains 900% daily needs of vitamin K and 600% vitamin A per serving! 

Here are some great recipes:

Massaged Kale - Red Russian or Siberian kale are best for this recipe because of softer leaves. 

Kale Pesto - You can use any kind of kale for this recipe. 

Kale Chips - Any kind of kale can be made into chips but I prefer varieties that have flatter leaves. 

Currently, my favorite way to eat kale is for breakfast—I just go out into the garden and pick a half dozen or so leaves and flash fry them in a small iron skillet until dark brown but not burned.  I add them to an everything bagel with smashed avocado and ‘everything but the bagel’ seasoning. 

While kale might not be as trendy in the restaurants, it is not a crop I want to be without, and I’m not sure I could be, even if I wanted to.



Friday, September 11, 2020

Maple Trees in Colorado

By Cherie Luke

Maple trees belong to the family Sapindaceae and the Genus Acer. There are approximately 128 kinds of maple trees which are easily recognized by their palmate leaves.

Having grown up in the east where maple trees are plentiful, I was happy to discover a maple trees that is native to the west, plus one non-native that will grow well at my 7,600’ elevation. Not only do I think they are a beautiful tree but I covet having deciduous leaves to use as leaf mulch to improve the soil in my gardens.

At the Denver Botanic Gardens plant sale a few years ago, I happened to find Acer grandidentatum, Bigtooth maple, in the “Grown at the Gardens” section. This tree started out 2 feet tall and now after about 6 years is 10 feet tall. It may well reach 20’-30’ tall. This is my favorite tree.

Tatariun Maple (Acer tataricum) 
Bigtooth maple may also be known as Wasatch Maple where its native habitat is located in the Wasatch Mountains. This mountain range stretches from Wyoming into Colorado and along the Utah border.

Another maple tree that I enjoy growing in my landscape is a Plant Select maple called Acer tataricum. This maple is expected to grow 15’-18’ tall and wide. This tree is native to southwestern Europe and western Asia. It has adapted well here because it doesn’t mind our alkaline soils, our semi- arid climate, and because it holds up well to storm damage. It’s beautiful red samaras (seed pods) are very attractive in the summer. In the fall the foliage turns a stunning red, yellow, and orange.

If you do not have any maple trees growing in your landscape, these are two you may want to try.

For more information about trees see CSU Extension Fact Sheet 7.423 Trees and Shrubs for Mountain Areas

Friday, September 4, 2020

A Butterfly Garden

A few years back I planted a small garden outside my back door.  I wanted to add summer color to the native chokecherry and serviceberry bushes that grow at the property’s edge.  To my delight, I inadvertently started a butterfly garden.

I notice butterflies when hiking in the high country.  They flutter about in a variety of colors and sizes, stopping briefly here and there, flying off before I get a good look at them.  Sometimes I see them congregating on the ground around a mud puddle.  Research tells me these are mostly males, likely getting nutrition from dissolved minerals.  One can learn to identify butterflies by noting size, color and pattern, and flight behavior, but to date, I can only easily recognize swallowtails and cabbage moths. 

This year I find I am hosting a new butterfly, a fritillary perhaps?  (see photo)

These visitors arrived in my garden in August when the nonnative purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and a native aster started blooming.  They appear to ignore other flowers nearby – black eyed susans, jupiter’s beard, cosmos, even the native bee balm.   They perch on the tall coneflowers when the sun is shining and linger, mostly one to a flower but sometimes sharing the bloom with another butterfly or even a bee.   They hang on when the wind gusts, rocking back and forth, finishing their meal before moving on.

Well planned butterfly gardens have host plants that provide food for caterpillars and nectar plants for adult butterflies.  They have sunny spots sheltered from the wind, and accessible water.  A garden with masses of flowers that bloom in sequence is ideal. CSU Extension’s “Attracting Butterflies to the Garden” has more details. (

My garden is not well planned, but it appears to have matured enough to provide the right environment for these butterflies.  They may like the untended surrounding area that has plenty of shelter and “undesirable” plants like dandelions and clover.  Or perhaps the small drip irrigation system installed last summer brought the butterflies.  Given regular water, all the plants have grown thicker and taller, with bigger and longer lasting blooms.

Watching butterflies lingering in my flowerbed is a treat!  With more research and a bit of work, I hope to attract more butterflies to my garden next year.    

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

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Garden and Landscape in a Time of Drought and Fire

 By Susan Carter, CSU Extension Tri River Area, Horticulture and Natural Resource Agent

I currently live in Fruita where the Pine Gulch Fire is about 12-15 miles north of me.  This morning I awoke to most of my garden covered in ash. It is amazing how far it travels.  A vegetable specialist from CSU campus suggested hosing off the ash. The plants would not be harmed by a loss of photosynthesis unless the ash layer was thick. By the time I was done hosing off everything, my once clean feet were covered with soot. I also learned that the fire-retardant slurry that fire fighters use, is high in phosphorus, and could harm plants. So how far does this slurry travel? I don’t know.

But the ash also got me thinking about defensible space.  My husband is a retired firefighter EMT of 21 years and fought many wildfires.  He doesn’t seem too concerned about the current situation since it is miles away, but In this time of drought, wildfires could happen ANYWHERE.  We should all be prepared.

How can you be prepared in the garden and landscape?  I would start by removing any dead plants. Deadhead flowers (removing flower stalks that are no longer blooming) as often as they dry out. Deadheading perennials and shrubs will also help them put more energy back in the root system instead of putting energy towards producing seeds. 

Remove leaf litter that is close to the house or in the gutters. It just takes one ember to land in a crook of the house where there is debris, and a fire starts. You could start a compost pile away from the house to add the plant debris. 

Closest to the house, use rock mulch, flagstone, paver stones, or other non-combustible materials. Keep wood piles and other wood products/furniture away from the house. Ideally a zone of lower growing, high to moderate water-loving plants are closer to your house, as long as it does not affect your foundation. 

To create defensible space, height should increase as you move away from the house. See the Colorado State Forest Service website for more detailed information on Defensible Space.,modified%20to%20reduce%20fire%20hazard.&text=Develop%20these%20zones%20around%20each,buildings%2C%20barns%20and%20other%20structures.

Did you know that there are plants that are more fire resistant?  Of course some of that depends on drought and how much moisture is in the plants. Take a look at the list of fire-wise plants here - .  Choose plants that do not produce a lot of litter. Aspen trees are a good high-altitude fire-resistant garden choice for the mountains. 

Now let’s talk drought. I have been getting many calls about older trees not doing well.  I know when you live on large properties or up in the mountains, typically there is not a lot you can do other than depend on Mother Nature for moisture. But you could water one or a few favorite, or most important trees. If they are mature established trees, water out twice their height or spread, and give them a deep soak once a month to a depth of 12-18 inches. This will keep them vigorous enough to help ward off insects like bark beetles and borers. Some trees, like pinion pines, might need some insecticide treatments to prevent ips beetle from infesting. When there are epidemics of insects AND there is prolonged drought, the trees are very susceptible to attack. More on ips beetles here -

Pinyon pine with twig or bark beetle damage, picture from Tri-River Area

For trees with lower dead limbs, remove them to decrease fire ladder potential. Prune evergreens when dormant to prevent attracting insects, like bark beetles and borers.  Use proper pruning techniques and cut outside the bark ridge and bark collar.  For bigger limbs use the three-cut method to prevent the limb from breaking and causing trunk damage. Read more about pruning techniques here -

Turn these limbs into chips or stack in a wood pile, away from your structures. If the plants are diseased or insect infested, follow appropriate protocol, for that particular issue, to dispose of or prevent any spread.

I hate to say it but I am hoping for an earlier winter, with lots of moisture, to help with the fires and the drought.  We can only do what we can do, the rest is up to Mother Nature.


Friday, August 14, 2020

Colorado Blue Spruce

The Tale of the Abused Colorado Blue Spruce
By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

My wife is from Colorado, and when we moved to the Detroit area of Michigan, she wanted a piece of Colorado near her. So we bought a 12-inch Colorado Blue Spruce for our backyard. It was not the azure blue but more of a deep blue green color. Of course, we did the research we could. At that time (35 years ago) the internet was in its infancy, so we discussed it with the local tree experts and spent time in the local library. Here some of the types of information we learned.

The names Colorado spruce, blue spruce and Colorado blue spruce tree all refer to the same magnificent tree—Pica pungens. Large specimens are imposing in the landscape because of their strong, architectural shape, in the form of a pyramid, and stiff, horizontal branches that form a dense canopy. The species grows up to 60 feet tall and looks best in open, arid landscapes. Smaller cultivars that grow 5 to 15 feet tall are right at home in lush gardens.

Colorado Blue Spruce
Picture Courtesy of Gurneys Nursery 
Blue spruce is a native tree that originated on stream banks and crags of the western United States. This sturdy tree is grown in farmlands, pastures and large landscapes as a windbreak and doubles as a nesting site for birds.

Short, sharp needles that are square in shape and very stiff and sharp attach to the tree singly, rather than in bunches, like pine needles. The tree produces 2- to 4-inch brown cones that fall to the ground in autumn. They are distinguished from other spruce trees by the bluish color of the needles, which can be quite striking on a sunny day.

Colorado blue spruce grows best in a sunny location with moist, well-drained, fertile soil. It tolerates dry wind and can adapt to dry soil. The tree is hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 7.

A healthy normal Blue Spruce with proper shape
Picture courtesy of Garden Know How 
After all this research, we decided we could plant this tree in Detroit. The tale begins of the blue spruce: We dug the right size hole, put soil amendments in, and watered frequently the first year. It did well and was two and a half feet tall by the end of the first year. And then the unthinkable happened, we decided to move it to our backyard. The move slowed the growth. Next, something fell on the tree and it was topped. Now it was only 2 feet tall. We left the tree in place for 3 years. Something fell on it again and it was topped. Then we decided it would look better in the front yard and moved it again. I am sure if this tree had feelings it would have felt tortured. But it survived.

Friday, August 7, 2020

Honeysuckle Vines and Bushes

By Vicki Barney

A Trumpet honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempervirens), is growing on an arch trellis outside Creekside Restaurant in Steamboat Springs, and is currently in bloom with masses of pink flowers.  It has been there for many years and, like other honeysuckle species, enhances a lovely garden setting.

About 180 species of honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) have been identified around the world.   Some species are vines and others are bushes, some more fragrant than others.  Usually they have oval, opposite growing leaves and produce flowers and berries in sets of two. They are fast growing and, once established, tolerate limited sun and water.  In some areas, certain non-native species grow too quickly and are considered invasive weeds. Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica) is one such

species and is known to have invaded riparian areas in the Denver area.

I fear I have a Tatarian honeysuckle growing up along a wall in my yard.   The bush was planted more than 8 years ago and stands at least 14 feet tall.  Every summer it grows taller, producing bright green leaves, pretty pink flowers and small red berries. The flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds, and the berries feed the birds.  Fortunately, I have noticed no invasive behavior, likely due to an arid climate, a somewhat shady location, and no regular irrigation.

While honeysuckle plants are tolerant of drought conditions, they, like most plants, produce more flowers and more robust foliage when given regular water and more sunshine. Annual pruning may also keep a more attractive appearance.  Vining species need a trellis for support; some species, though, may be grown as ground cover.   Regarding shrubs, CSU Extension’s Fact Sheet on Deciduous Shrubs ( lists recommended species.

Colorado has one native species. Twinberry (Lonicera involucrata), a medium sized bush, grows along our trails and can be identified by its twin yellow flowers followed by twin dark berries in red bracts.  I have planted it in my yard to attract wildlife, and it flourishes in spite of limited sunshine.  More details about Twinberry and other native bushes may be found here: (

Our native honeysuckle is easy to grow and feeds our butterfly and bird populations.  Non-native species are almost as easy to grow, may produce more spectacular flowers, and are beneficial to our wildlife as well.  Nearly any variety of honeysuckle will add your garden experience.


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

Friday, July 17, 2020

Western Spiderwort

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

A native plant new to me is growing in my garden: Western spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis).  Recommended by my friend and local botanist Karen Vail, the plant has unusual habits that complement the neighboring plants.  It has become my favorite in the garden, at least for now.

A variety of spiderworts are native to the North American plains. According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s Native Plant Database, there are 33 in the family, with 4 native to Colorado.  My Colorado wildflower guides list only Western spiderwort (also called Prairie spiderwort), which grows in the plains and foothills of eastern Colorado.  The spiderwort name may have originated by the spider leg appearance of the foliage or because it was once used to treat spider bites.  “Wort” is the Old English word for plant. 

There are a number of cultivated varieties with names like Spider Lily, Purple Heart, and Cow Slobber – really!   Spiderworts from tropical climates have been cultivated as houseplants as well, with names like Wandering Dude and Moses-in-the–cradle. The houseplants are easy to grow but may have toxic properties.

My spiderworts arrived last summer as leggy plants sprawling out of tiny containers.  They were bedraggled, with foot tall stems bent over by the weight of spent buds. From research, I learned the plants would grow in untidy clumps and might need maintenance like staking, deadheading, and cutting back.  They might also be invasive.  It sounded like a lot of work for flowers that last for only a single morning.  The research, though, was about cultivated varieties, not about my natives.

My spiderwort plants have been a treat to observe. Planted in light shade with drip irrigation and with no staking, every plant has grown upright over 2 feet tall.  Beautiful triangular flowers appear in the morning and last until mid-afternoon. The blue petals then disappear back into the original bud, now spent.  New blooms appear the following morning, a process that may go on for two months.

To date, I am a big fan of spiderwort.  Plants may suffer from foliar decline later in the summer but can be cut down once they quit blooming.  They also may get unruly looking (read: weedy) if they reseed, but for now, they are a wonderful addition to my garden.

For more information, please see CSU Extension’s Fact Sheet 7-242: Native herbaceous perennials for Colorado Landscapes (