Sunday, December 10, 2017

Holiday Plant Lore: Amaryllis by Carol King

Photo by Carol King
Amaryllis bulbs are everywhere during the holiday season. As one of the easiest bulbs to force and bloom, the United States imports more than 10 million bulbs from Holland and South Africa every year to keep up with demands.  We think of amaryllis as being a winter flower because they are commonplace during the holidays but in nature the amaryllis blooms in spring and summer.

Amaryllis is the perfect gift for a gardener in your life. Greek lore tells us the flower is named after a shepherdess, Amaryllis, who was madly in love with a gardener named Alteo.  As it would be, Amaryllis’s love was unrequited.  Alteo would not love her and said that he would only love a maiden who brought him a unique flower that he had never seen before.

Amaryllis went to the Oracle of Delphi for help in winning Alteo’s heart.  She followed his advice and appeared at Alteo’s door for thirty nights, dressed in white and piercing her heart each night with a golden arrow.  Alteo did not open the door until the thirtieth night and before him stood Amaryllis with a crimson flower that had sprung from the blood of her heart. When at last he opened his door, Alteo fell in love with the maiden surrounded by beautiful Amaryllis flowers.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Easy Tricks for Pretty Treats by Carrie Garczynski

Photo by Carrie Garczynski
We all have pumpkins this time of year – either for decoration or degustation. Instead of tossing or before composting, there are a few tricks you can do to elongate your autumnal enjoyment. Not only do you have luscious pumpkin flesh to create a tasty treat, you have a perfect decorative vase for the center of your table. Decor like this can also be composted when the season is over. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Holiday Plant Lore: Mistletoe

Photo courtesy Botanical Accuracy
Where did the ritual of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas time come from and what's so special about it? 

Before there were any Christmas trees, the custom to kiss beneath it most likely originated in pre-Christian Europe where it was believed that mistletoe possessed life bestowing properties and was associated with fertility. Along this line of thinking, mistletoe was also used as an aphrodisiac and, if that were not enough, it was used as an antidote to poison and to witchcraft as well. Hence, the custom of hanging mistletoe over a doorway to ward off evil spirits from crossing your threshold.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Choosing and Caring for Your Poinsettia By Olivia Tracy

Poinsettia Plants (Euphorbia pulcherrima) Photo courtesy of Olivia Tracy

In the first weeks of December, many people buy poinsettia plants (Euphorbia pulcherrima) to decorate their homes for the holiday season. While the vibrant red and pink leaves of the poinsettia are often referred to as “flowers,” they are actually called bracts; the true poinsettia flower sits at the center of those bracts. 

Here are a few tips for selecting healthy poinsettia plants and caring for them in your home. 
  • Choose plants with dark green leaves; if the cultivar has lighter or mottled bracts, then the foliage may be lighter as well. Avoid plants with pale green and yellow leaves; this often indicates that the plant has been given too little or too much water. 
  • If it’s cold outside (around or below 35 degrees Farenheit), be sure your poinsettia is carefully wrapped before you transport it. Once it’s in your home, remove the plastic sleeve immediately; leaving the plant in the sleeve can damage the bracts. 
  • Be sure your poinsettias receive indirect sunlight for at least six hours a day; avoid direct sunlight, which can fade the bracts, and protect your poinsettia from extreme temperatures by not placing it near drafts or heating vents. 
  • Water the poinsettia whenever the top of the soil feels dry to the touch. When watering, be sure to either remove foil wrapping or cut a hole in the bottom of the wrapping so that water can drain out of the pot; too much water can suffocate the root system.

For more information about poinsettias, including how to fertilize your plant after the holidays and help your poinsettia re-flower next year, please see the CSU Fact Sheet 7.412, “Poinsettias” http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/poinsettias-7-412/  

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Holiday Plant Lore: Holly

Holly with berries, photo courtesy gardenknowhow.com

Christmas brings with it many traditions, and it may be the one time many of us still practice a few old customs from folklore from around the world.

Though holly doubtless was, and still is, brought into the house for its shiny green leaves and berries, which reflect the light and add colour to the dark days of Yule, it has another significance as well. Christian symbolism connected the prickly leaves with Jesus' crown of thorns and the berries with the drops of blood shed for humanity's salvation, as is related, for example, in the Christmas carol, 'The Holly and the Ivy'. Yet even here the reference to these two plants refers to a pre-Christian celebration, where a boy would be dressed in a suit of holly leaves and a girl similarly in ivy, to parade around the village, bringing Nature through the darkest part of the year to re-emerge for another year's fertility.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Choosing a Fresh Christmas Tree by Carol King

Photo CSU Extension
Are you thinking of getting a fresh Christmas tree this year? It seems that there are tree lots on every street corner and the choices can be overwhelming. Here are a few simple steps that will ensure you get the freshest tree and keep it that way.

At the tree lot:
  • Check that the needles bend rather than break with gentle pressure; 
  • Shake it carefully to look for needle loss; 
  • Check the cut end: it should be sticky with sap. 
If these conditions exist, buy the tree and take it home.

At home:
  • Make a new cut at the end of the trunk about an inch above the old one.
  • Keep the cut end standing in water, whether you decorate the tree immediately or not. This allows a fresh route for water to travel into the trunk. 
  • Check the tree's water level frequently, and refill as necessary. Fresh evergreen trees can take up an amazing amount of water. You may have to fill the reservoir several times a day. Don’t let the water level drop below the trunk, as a seal will formant prevent the tree from absorbing water.
  • Keep your tree away from heat sources such as a heating duct or television set. A fresh tree that receives good care should remain in safe condition indoors for ten days to two weeks.
You can also cut your Christmas tree at several U. S. Forest Service locations near the Front Range, provided you have a permit.  The USDA Forest Service web site , (Rocky Mountain Region Regional Christmas Tree Program) has information on where and when to get a permit, cutting dates and times, tips on caring for your tree including a recipe for a fireproofing mixture, and other details. There are also Christmas tree farms along the Front Range that allow you to “cut your own.” 

For more information on selecting the perfect tree check this CSU fact sheet: http://www.colostate.edu/Dept/CoopExt/4dmg/Garden/chritmas.htm

Enjoy that fresh tree! 


Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Brighten Your Space with Indoor Citrus By Olivia Tracy

Etrog Citron (Citrus medica); photo courtesy of Olivia Tracy

This winter, if you’re hoping to cheer up your indoor space, why not incorporate the bright color and invigorating scent of a citrus tree? While some citrus varieties are too large to grow indoors, there are dwarf cultivars of lime, lemon, orange and tangerine that can grow in containers, including the ancient Etrog Citron (Citrus medica; pictured); sour citrus does particularly well, as it requires less heat to ripen.3 While many nurseries are now closed for the season, you can still mail-order dwarf citrus trees from reputable seed and plant distributors. 

Some Indoor Citrus Varieties Include:1,2,3 
LIMES: 
Bearss Lime (Citrus latifolia)
Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix), grown mostly for the leaves

LEMONS:
Meyer lemon (Citrus x meyeri)
Variegated Pink Lemon (Citrus x limon)

TANGERINES AND ORANGES: 
Mandarin/Satsuma Oranges (Citrus reticulata); actually a tangerine, with fragrant flowers and the familiar ‘orange.’
Calamondin Orange (Citrofortunella mitis), a small, sour orange; often grown as an ornamental.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Forcing Paperwhite Narcissus Bulbs by Carol King



Photo brighter blooms.com
Paperwhite narcissus are classic holiday flowers that display the spirit of Christmas. They are available to purchase everywhere during this season. Classical mythology states that a young man named Narcissus was vainly staring at his own reflection in a pond and he fell in and drowned, then legend says that the first narcissus plant came up where he had lost his life. They’re sold this time of year to give us something pretty to grow during the darkness of winter. 

Planttalk Colorado has this advice for planting these lovely bulbs:

"Paperwhite narcissus (Narcissus papyraceus) are one of the easiest bulbs to force for cut flowers or ornamental displays in the home from December to March. They are a form of daffodil that can be forced without a chilling period.To force paperwhites, fill a bulb pan with about one to two inches of potting soil, then position the bulbs in the soil so they are nearly touching each other with pointed end up. Add enough potting soil so that only the top half of the bulbs remain exposed, then water well.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Gardening Power to the People: Wrapping Your Trees for Winter Protection Video

Protect trees from winter sun scald by wrapping them now! Here's how:

Friday, November 24, 2017

Feeding Birds in the Fall and Winter By Joyce D’Agostino

Photo by Joyce D'Agostino

Like most outdoor wildlife, birds depend on the natural surroundings for food, water and shelter. Often some areas have little open space for wildlife to thrive and providing supplemental nutrition during the fall and winter can help birds survive and cope with the changing weather.

In a previous blog (10/19/2017: Love Birds and Pollinators? Don't Clean the Fall Garden by Carol King) we discussed how not removing some of your flower seed heads can provide a good source of seeds for the birds.  So instead of doing a full scale clean up of your landscape to remove dried seeds and pods, leave some for the wildlife to enjoy. 
Providing seed and suet blocks for the birds throughout the cold weather months is also a good and acceptable way to give birds an extra source of nutrition.  

There has been some discussion as to whether filling your birdfeeder with seeds is good for the birds or if they should depend solely on natural foraging and finding open water sources. Research shows that providing food for the birds is acceptable and focusing on the right seed such as the black sunflower seeds which is high in nutrition, plus fresh water, provides an important and healthy supplement to the bird’s diets. 

For water, you don’t need to invest in an expensive birdbath, a shallow durable dish will work just as well. Change the water often so that it doesn’t freeze and remains clean is important. Electric or solar water heaters can also be purchased to keep the water from freezing. 

When it comes to choosing the best food, before investing in a large amount of certain seed, first start with the black sunflower seed. If you then want to test another type of seed, start with a small amount.  

Choosing the right bushes and trees to add to your landscape also is very important to provide shelter from the weather and predators. The bulletins below provide good research based information on feeding your birds and other wildlife and suggestions for shelter plants:



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Cornucopia: Origins by Carol King

Cornucopia Photo publicdomainpictures.net
The cornucopia is the symbol of abundant harvest and is most often associated with Thanksgiving in the United States. It is a horned shaped vessel filled with an abundance of the earth's harvest. 

Cornucopia became an English word in 1508 when it first appeared in the dictionary. Its origins are from two Latin words; Cornu meaning "horn" and Copia meaning "plenty". 

The cornucopia has been a symbol of a great harvest for centuries and was probably first referred to in Greek and Roman myths and dates back to the 5th century B.C. My favorite is the Greek version: “ Almathea was a goat who nursed and raised Zeus. While playing one day, Zeus accidentally broke one of her horns. He was so saddened by this that he used his godly powers to fill the broken horn with whatever Almathea wanted so it became the horn of plenty. Zeus also put the goat's image in the sky and that is our constellation Capricorn.”

The symbol of the cornucopia was also used, along with rolling fields of grain, to lure new settlers to come to the New World. It is now in our national consciousness as a symbol for bountiful garden harvest and the sharing of food that has become our American Thanksgiving.  

Wishing you and yours a harvest of good food and good fortune! Happy Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 20, 2017

Amaryllis: The Joy That Keeps on Giving by Patti O'Neal




Samba Amaryllis, photo courtesy Donna Duffy

Amaryllis is a rare gift to a gardener, providing near instant gratification producing a magnificent spectacle in 4-6 weeks. It’s a gift of growing something and making it bloom right in the middle of snow and freezing temperatures. The trick for many is to get them to do it again the following year. 

Amaryllis is a tender bulb, meaning it does not require a chilling period to bloom.  These beauties originate in the temperate climates of South America where they grow and bloom outdoors.  Here in the chilly Rocky Mountains we enjoy them “forced” during the holidays of December and on into January and even February.