Friday, February 19, 2021

Indoor Plant Fun

By Ed Powers, Jefferson County Master Gardener

It has been an interesting 14 months. My wife and I have been quarantined this whole time. Like a lot of people we have been catching up on things we fell behind on. We spent our whole summer working on our outdoor gardens. Our flowering plant pots were highly successful, but our vegetable garden was eaten up by the wildlife in our area. We had the garden protected with double netting but the voles and mice got through it and had a feast. So this spring we are going to dig up and turn over our raised garden soil, and find a new protection for them.   

But our indoor plant gardens have been fun. We rely on background info from CSU factsheets and Garden Notes for information on how to take care of them. I can not say enough positive things about these resources. The types of plants we have can be very challenging. We have orchids, African violets, many types of  succulents and cacti. A desert rose, miniature ficus trees, small Japanese Red Maples, indoor geraniums, pothos, ivy, mother-in-law tongue, a small nursery that I start plants in, a small Japanese Black Pine that I am trying to bonsai, several Christmas cactus and a hanging bag full of outdoor plants that I brought in for the winter to see if they would make it.

Plants on steel shelves with only natural light.


Now you may ask how do we house and care for these plants? They are housed in our garage, turned into a sun room and workspace area. It has no heat except for heat coming through basement open areas such as doors or windows.  Our sunny areas face the southwest and some northerly exposure.  We have our stronger plants on steel shelving with some artificial light. We have also put bubble wrap on the windows for insulation while letting the sun light in. The temperature averages between 62 F and 67 F during the winter although when we get below 10 F outside that temperature can drop to 58 F.  

Bubble wrap on windows for insulation and light.


These steel-shelfed plants include all our trees, succulents, desert rose, Christmas cactus, mother-in-law tongue and Japanese Red Maples. They all seem to do well even when it is colder.  Our more sensitive plants are on a plant stand draped with a plastic curtain in back and bubble wrap in front, which can be lifted and thrown over the back of the stand on warm days. The bubble wrap is two sheets 18 inches wide with openings in middle and ends, allowing circulation in the stand. 

Orchids on first shelf of plant stand.


The stand has three shelves. When planting seed in early spring, I put them on the bottom shelf in trays. All shelves are lit with LED lighting. The top shelf holds the orchids, African violets, our small plant nursery and newly rooted trees, and is heated with a heat mat that is controlled by a thermostat.  The second shelf does not have a heat mat. It holds geraniums, pothos and ivy. The stand usually is 65 F to 70 F.  But on colder mornings it may drop to 61 F.

Plant nursery, African violets and newly started ficus trees on first shelf of plant stand. 


All in all it has been a fun time with our plants during this Pandemic and we hope to continue with our success when the Pandemic has passed.


Friday, February 5, 2021

8 Ways Cover Crops Can Improve Your Garden

By Patti O’Neal, Jefferson County Extension Horticulture and Urban Food Systems

Cover cropping, a strategy also known as green manure, has been practiced by gardeners and farmers the world over for over 10,000 years. This organic restoration practice can boost your garden noticeably the very first year you incorporate it into your own best management practices and the improvements increase even more each year as their effects accumulate. These crops are easy to use, do not need much care beyond watering and a mowing/cutting or two and provide tremendous advantages to the garden and gardener.

Cover crops are plants that are considered soil builders. Here are 8 sometimes overlooked ways that cover crops build the soil productivity in your garden:


·       Provides Beneficial insect habitat – pollinators, honeybees, beneficial predator insects will all enjoy the nectar as well as the shelter these crops can provide at every season you use them.

·       Smothers weeds and suppresses their seed from germinating as well.  They provide a dense mat to keep the light from reaching the seeds.

·       Better, more complete soil tillage than any mechanical method.  These crops improve soil structure, allowing more air and water penetration. They can break up soil compaction, loosen tight, hard, or heavy soils and create good tilth.

·       Provides shade for the soil for cooler root temperatures, less moisture losses during hot weather.

·       Acts as a living mulch when established between vegetable rows.

·       Increases organic matter in the soil while feeding the microbes, beneficial bacteria, fungi, and earthworms living in the soil.

·       Conserves soil moisture both at the surface of the soil and in the critical root zone. The extensive root systems conserve soil by reducing erosion from rain by slowing water flow across and through the soil. The living foliage can also buffer wind effects.

·       Fixes nitrogen from the air while recycling nutrients, preventing their run-off and leaching from the root zone, simultaneously bringing up deeper nutrients to plant roots that are usually unavailable.

Use seasonally appropriate cover crops.  Legumes, vetches, rye, and buckwheat are all excellent cover crop plants.  Like all plants, each cover crop germinates and flourishes best in certain seasons. Most reputable seed companies will sell individual crop packets or recommended mixes appropriate for specific season plantings.  Some cover crop seeds are available locally, but seed catalogues have the widest range and generally provide good advice and instruction on using them.


If you are letting a bed or area of your garden go fallow for a season, this thousands year old practice of planting a cover crop can help to replenish the biological community of your soil below while providing nectar as well as shelter for pollinators and beneficials above. Here are a couple of tips to help you be the most successful with a green manure crop.

Allow your crop to flower but watch carefully and do not let it go to seed or you will be battling weeds of a different sort in the months to come.

Flowering red clover

If you plant early enough in the season you can get one or maybe even two mowing’s in (If you garden in raised beds, a weed whacker works great for this) forcing the root material into overdrive to produce another above ground crop.  This action forces the root system further into the soil to depositing additional nutrients while continuing to improve tilth, bringing formerly unavailable nutrients up to the plant root zone.

After your final mowing, fork the remainder of the material under so the microbes and arthropods you have encouraged can break it all down completely to become plant available nutrients.  Be sure and do this at least a month to six weeks before your intended planting date for this bed.  Otherwise, the increased microbial activity will compete with the root establishment of new plants or can even disrupt germination of seeds. You do not want to spoil all the good work you have done.

Ferris helping turn the cover crop


Friday, January 22, 2021

Water Colors in the Garden

By Ginger Baer, Gilpin County Master Gardener

This is the time of the year that we get flooded with our seed catalogs. Oh, to dream of warm, sunny, gardening weather.  Those catalogs do help brighten a grey wintery day. However, when you get through the catalog and make your order, what else can you do?

One of my first paintings

My grandmother and mother were terrific gardeners.  They also were really good at using their water colors to capture the plants that they loved so much. I have many of my mother’s paintings in my home.  I especially love the floral ones because they are reminders of our gardens and sunny, warm weather.

Two paintings by my mother, Caroline English Stancliff

I have gardened as long as I can remember, but only took up painting six years ago when I retired. To get started I took classes at a community art center.  I then bought some lesson books from my teacher to keep me going. I find this to be a great winter-time activity. I am one of those people that needs sunshine and color in the winter.  Painting really helps. I highly recommend it!

Two more of mine. See the sunshine?

So how do I manage to paint a picture of a flower or vegetable when the ground is all covered in white?  Let’s go back to those seed catalogs. Shepherd’s Seeds has great photos.  Botanical Interests has real artsy graphics. If you want to get inspired, pull out one of your catalogs and start thinking of what you love and what would be fun to paint. My mother used to get out the White Flower Farm catalog.  Some of the things that I found in her bag were clippings of flowers right out of a catalog. As a matter of fact, I inherited all of her art supplies.

Some of the supplies from my mother

Of course, there are other mediums you can use besides watercolors. I just happened to have water colors given to me.  Sometimes they are hard, but I love the softness of them. There are oils, acrylics, pastels, colored pencils, and much more.

I didn’t think I could draw, let alone paint. Those lesson books helped. So did practice, practice, practice. Don’t be shy, give it a try! And then have many happy years of painting things from your garden.

Another of mine. How Colorado is that!

Additional Resources:

 

This is my art instructor  http://www.janetnunnwatercolors.com/

 

Supplies can be purchased easily on-line.  I have used www.Michaels.com and http://www.janetnunnwatercolors.com/

 

Beginner watercolor techniques - https://watercolorpainting.com/

Friday, January 8, 2021

What is a Pollinator Syndrome?

By Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension

In general, research has shown that plants have specific flower traits that attract pollinators, and the plants provide the pollinator with nectar and pollen rewards. These attractive traits can include flower color, odor, shape, and availability of pollen and nectar. Some plants even have nectar guides which are markings showing where the pollinator should go to collect the reward. Different traits will attract different pollinators. Why would a plant evolve with traits to attract pollinators? Because visiting pollinators will facilitate plant reproduction. This relationship benefits both the plants and the pollinators.

For example, bird pollination is called “ornithophily.”  In Colorado, hummingbirds are primary bird pollinators. We know that hummingbirds generally prefer to visit flowers that are red, orange, or white. The flowers tend to be funnel-shaped, hang loosely on the plant, and have plenty of nectar deep in the flowers. For other birds around the world such as sunbirds, honeycreepers, and honeyeaters, the plants tend to have strong perch support for the bird to land.

Flowers that attract birds typically don’t have an odor, because birds don’t need the scent to find the flowers. You might also notice that the flower petals tend to curve outward to make it easier for a hummingbird in flight to drink nectar.


A female broad-tailed hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). Note the pollen on her head. Photo: Nancy Klasky

The USDA Forest Service compiled a chart of pollinator syndromes for the major groups of pollinators.

A wide variety of research is available demonstrating different pollinator syndromes. I want to share two research studies with you.

Darwin’s Prediction of the Long-Spurred Orchid

In the 1860’s, Darwin studied orchids including the long-spurred orchid, Angraecum sesquipedal. He predicted the flowers were pollinated by a long-tongued moth because the flowers have a long spur approximately 12-inches long! The nectar sources are located deep in those long spurs. When Darwin received a specimen of this orchid, his wrote, “… good heavens what insect can suck it” (Darwin, 1862b).

At the time, no pollinators had been observed pollinating these orchid flowers. Scientists predicated pollinator could possibly be the species, Xanthopan morganii, and subspecies, Xanthopan morganii praedicta, commonly called the Morgan’s sphinx moth because they have a proboscis length (tongue-like tube) that averages over 8 inches long. More than 130 years later after Darwin’s prediction, documentation of this moth pollinating the orchid was finally published beginning in 1993 (Arditti et al., 2012). To learn more, I recommend reading this journal article.

Pollinator Syndromes in Columbines

Another research example that we see in Colorado shows that columbines (Aquilegia spp.) have adapted and evolved to attract different pollinators depending on their spur length. This is considered a “pollinator shift” when the plant adapts to the traits of a pollinator (Whittall and Hodges, 2007). 

Besides the spur length, note the other traits the columbines show to attract their designated pollinator. Image credit: Whittall and Hodges, 2007

Your Garden and Pollinator Syndromes

With anything, there are always exceptions to the rules. If you are looking to plant flowers to attract pollinators, you can use pollinator syndromes as a general guideline, but we recommend doing additional research and reading about pollinator-friendly plants that grow well in your area. For instance, to support pollinators, avoid double flowers. Many double-flowered horticultural varieties typically do not have pollen and nectar available for flower visitors.

Here are some resources for pollinator-friendly plant lists:

·         Creating Pollinator Habitat: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/insect/05616.pdf

·         Attracting Native Bees to Your Yard: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/insect/05615.pdf

·         Attracting Butterflies to the Garden: https://extension.colostate.edu/docs/pubs/insect/05504.pdf

·         Low-Water Native Plants for Pollinators: https://conps.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Low-Water-Native-Plants-for-Pollinators-brochure-6-8-15.pdf

·         Low-Water Native Plants for Colorado Gardens: Mountains 7,500’ and Above: https://conps.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Low-Water-Native-Plants-for-CO-Gardens-Mountains.pdf

·         Low-Water Native Plants for Colorado Gardens: Front Range and Foothills: https://conps.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Low-Water-Native-Plants-for-CO-Gardens-Front-Range-Foothills.pdf

 

References

Arditti, J., Elliott, J., Kitching, I. J., Wasserthall, L. T. ‘Good Heavens what insect can suck it’ – Charles Darwin, Angraecum sesquipedale and Xanthopan morganii praedictaBotanical Journal of the Linnean Society 169, Issue 3, 403-432 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1095-8339.2012.01250.x

Darwin CR 1862b. Letter 3411-Darwin, C. R., to Hooker, J. D, 25 January 1862. Available at: http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/entry-3411

Whittall, J., Hodges, S. Pollinator shifts drive increasingly long nectar spurs in columbine flowers. Nature 447, 706–709 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05857