Monday, December 17, 2018

Holiday Plant Lore: Holly

Holly with berries, photo courtesy

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.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Holiday Plant Lore: Wreaths by Carol King

Photo by Echter's Garden Center
Hanging a circular wreath of evergreens during mid winter is a tradition that goes back to ancient Greece and Rome.

In Roman times wreaths were hung on doors as a sign of victory and rich Roman women wore them as headdresses at special occasions. Roman emperors wore Laurel Wreaths. 

In Ancient Greece, wreaths were used at funerals to represent the circle of eternal life. They were also given to the winners of events in the original Olympic Games in Greece.

In early Christendom,  evergreen wreaths were laid at the burial place of early Christian virgin martyrs in Europe, the evergreen representing the victory of the eternal spirit over death.

Modern Christmas wreaths transcended from Celtic Kissing Boughs and the German and Eastern European custom of Advent Wreaths.

The word 'wreath' comes from the Old English word 'writhen' which means to writhe or twist. The circular ring shape of the wreath signifies eternity, and the evergreens represent growth and the everlasting. As the wreath is made of plants that remain green throughout the winter, it represents life in the dead of winter.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

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.” 

Enjoy that fresh tree! 

Monday, December 10, 2018

It's Frost Season! But What Kind of Frost is That?

Autumn frost, photo by Donna Duffy

It’s the time of year when frost occurs almost daily. But what kind of frost is it? Just a few degrees or a slight change to the environment can separate air frost from ground frost, or hoar frost from glaze or rime. Following is a detailed look at what each term means, courtesy of The Weather Channel.

Hoar frost, photo by Donna Duffy

Hoar frost
Consisting of tiny ice crystals, hoar frost is formed through the same process as dew - but only when surface temperatures are below freezing point. 
Hoar frost follows a feather-like appearance, forming when the surface temperature reaches 0C before the dew begins to manifest on it.  Often more rounded frost particles appear, called 'white' frost, which is when the dew forms first and then freezes as a result. However, if there is any fog present, this usually prevents the formation of hoar frost since it lessens the potential for the cooling of the Earth's surface.

Air frost
Air frost happens when the temperature of the air plunges to or below the freezing point of water. The depth of air above the ground also must have increased to at least three feet above the ground. The combination then creates a layer of cold air hovering just above the ground that should hit 32F or below, and gradually becomes thicker and thicker as more heat energy fades away and the temperature continues to fall.

Grass frost
A grass frost is an un-official strain of ground frost. A grass frost takes place when natural surfaces, such as grass, freeze, while other surfaces such as tarmac and concrete pavements don’t. The reason why such man-made surfaces don't come into contact with this frost is due to their better ability to hold onto warmth.

Glaze or rime
Frost is often confused with rime or glaze. Rime is a rough white ice deposit which forms on vertical surfaces exposed to the wind. It is formed by supercooled water droplets of fog freezing on contact with a surface it drifts past. Glaze can only form when supercooled rain or drizzle comes into contact with the ground, or non-supercooled liquid may produce glaze if the ground is well below 32F. Glaze is a clear ice deposit that can be mistaken for a wet surface and can be highly dangerous. On the roads, we often refer to glaze as “black ice”.

Glaze, also called black ice, photo courtesy science.howstuffworks

Ground frost
Ground frost relates to ice formed on the ground, or on objects and trees, where the surface consists of a temperature below freezing point. On those occasions when the ground cools faster than the air, ground frost can occur without an air frost.

So there you have it! Everything you always wanted to know about frost!\

Friday, December 7, 2018

Winter Care for Houseplants

Photo courtesy Beth Bonnicksen, Boulder County CMG
Winter weather adversely affects growing conditions for houseplants. Proper care during the winter months can help insure the health of houseplants. Following are tips from University of Nebraska Extension in Lancaster County, Mary Jane Frogge.

Most houseplants grow well with daytime temperatures of 65 to 75 degrees F and night temperatures of 60 to 65 degrees F. Temperatures below 50 degrees F or rapid temperature fluctuations may damage some plants. Keep houseplants away from cold drafts, radiators, and hot air vents. Also make sure houseplant foliage doesn't touch cold windows.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

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”  

Friday, November 30, 2018

'Tis the Season for Ice Melt by Rebecca Anderson

Photo by Beckie Anderson

Winter is here, along with the snow and ice we don’t have to worry about during the warmer months. Although the snow brings moisture that will help our plants flourish next spring, it does make getting around in the winter tricky and even dangerous at times. Ice melting products help clear away the slick surfaces, but with more products available every season it can be difficult to choose which is right for your situation. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Jefferson County Gardeners Calendars for Sale by Bonny Griffith

Photo Mary Kirby

  • Want a calendar that reminds you every month what you should be doing in your garden? Or perhaps you would like a unique and distinctive holiday gift for other gardeners on your shopping list? The Jefferson County Gardeners are selling 2019 calendars with beautiful and interesting photos of plants and flowers taken by Master Gardeners. The calendars are available at the CSU Extension Office at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds for $14 each or by mail for $16 (quantities of five or more to one address will not be charged the shipping fee). The money raised from the sale of the calendars will fund scholarships for horticultural students in Colorado. Each calendar features: 
  • Twelve months of beautiful high-quality photographs taken in Jefferson County. Each month has a “Gardening To Do List” especially written for Jeffco gardeners. 
  •  Six months each have a photo of a Plant Select® specimen. Plant Select® is a non-profit program jointly run by Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens and professional horticulturists. Plants selected for the program must be tough and resilient, have low water needs and be non-invasive. They also must be aesthetically pleasing! For more information on the Plant Select® program, go to 
  •  Six months each have a photo of a Native Plant specimen. Native plants are low-maintenance and are beneficial to wildlife and pollinators. For more information on learning about Native Plants, go to Both Plant Select® and Native Plant photos include a brief paragraph with information on how to care for them. Both common and botanical names of all plants are provided. Printed on a matte finish to allow for writing your appointments on the appropriate date. 
  • Calendar size is 9 x 12 inches, so there is plenty of room for writing on each date. Each month also has a special box for writing notes. 
  • 55% of your cost is tax-deductible. 
 To buy this beautiful calendar, please visit the CSU Extension Office, 15200 W. Sixth Ave., Unit #C, Golden, from 8am to 5pm weekdays. The phone is 303-271-6620. Or email Credit cards are accepted.

Prevent Floppy Paperwhites: Give Them a Stiff Drink by Carol King

Cornell University Bulb Experiment

Have you heard that drinking alcohol will stunt your growth?  Well this is certainly true with narcissus and amaryllis bulbs.

We bulb lovers love to force bulbs to bloom during the winter holidays.  They brighten an otherwise dark time in gardening. Narcissus (also known as paper whites) and amaryllis are notorious for getting tall and leggy and flopping over.  To combat this problem look no further than the liquor cabinet.

The Flower Bulb Research Program at Cornell University conducted experiments using various kinds of alcohol and discovered that plant height will be reduced by one third thus stopping the “flop over”. Alcohol interferes with water uptake, thus less cell stretching and shorter stems. Here are their recommendations:

“Start your bulbs in plain water. When roots have formed and the green shoot is 1 to 2 inches long, pour off the water and replace with a solution of 4 to 6 percent alcohol. If you are using 80 proof liquor (40 percent alcohol), that works out to one part gin (or the like) to 7 parts water.

Rubbing alcohol (either 70 or 100 percent isopropyl alcohol) can be substituted; just remember to dilute it more. Keep the beer and wine for yourself; their sugars damage plants.” 

Distilled spirits are watered down at a rate of 1 part to 7 parts water. Rubbing alcohol needs more dilution at a rate of 1 to 11.

So enjoy a glass of wine while you give the bulbs a good stiff drink of the hard stuff! Enjoy your beautiful shorter flowers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Cornucopia: Origins by Carol King

Cornucopia Photo
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.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Word of the Month: Marcescent - Leaves That Hang on in Winter

This Acer grandidentatum, Bigtooth Maple, is slow to drop its leaves in winter,  photo by Donna Duffy
Ever wondered why some deciduous trees hold on to their leaves through the winter and others go bare? Learn about marcescent leaves and why they might just help a tree out. The article below was written by Jim Finley, Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management.