Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Irish Shamrock and Saint Patrick by Carol King

The Irish shamrock is the most recognized symbol of St. Patrick’s Day. The word (Irish: seamrog) means a young sprig in Irish. Saint Patrick is said to have used it as a symbol for the Christian Holy Trinity to help convert the Irish people from Druidism to Christianity in the 5th century. The Druids were said to hold the shamrock in special regard because its leaves formed a triad, and three is a mystical number in Celtic religion. 

In Ireland, all shamrocks are considered lucky and are worn and given as gifts on St. Patrick's Day. There is some disagreement among the Irish as to which exact plant is the shamrock. Two detailed investigations to settle the matter were carried out in two separate botanical surveys in Ireland, one in 1893 and the other in 1988. The results show that there is no one "true" species of shamrock, but that Trifolium dubium (Lesser clover) is considered to be the shamrock by roughly half of Irish people, and Trifolium repens (White clover) by another third, with the remaining fifth is split between various other species of Trifolium and Oxalis.

White clover (Trifolium repens), the common lawn weed, is found in Colorado.  This Irish shamrock is growing in our lawns, in prairies, pastures and foothills all around us!

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Soil Testing: CSU Extension or DIY?

Photo by Donna Duffy

One of the first recommendations that we make as master gardeners is to have your soil tested before you add any amendments, plant anything or take any action at all in your home garden. This is probably the most important step any gardener can take before planting that first seed. The "blue chip" soil test is done at a Cooperative Extension soil testing lab such as the one at CSU.

However, we know that realistically, many home gardeners utilize a "do it yourself" soil testing product from their local garden centers.

So how do those testing kits stand up against the "real deal" at the Soil, Water and Plant Testing Laboratory at CSU? 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Winter Desiccation of Evergreens

Winter desiccation, photo courtesy Purdue University
It’s been a typical Jefferson County winter with periods of warm, windy, low-humidity days with no snow cover and extended dry periods. This contributes to “winter desiccation” on needled and broadleaved evergreens. Last year’s transplants are especially prone to winter desiccation (also called winter burn) under these conditions.  As the plants hold their leaves, they continue to transpire which becomes difficult during warm, dry winter periods. Below ground, small “hair roots” may die in dry soils leaving roots unable to replace lost leaf moisture.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Spring Forward With Your Gardening By Joyce D’Agostino

It’s March, and for gardeners this means that Spring is quickly approaching. For most of us in the US, we will observe the “spring forward” by setting our clocks an hour of daylight ahead on March 11, 2018 to observe Daylight Savings time. This month the “Vernal Equinox” or the first day of spring also occurs in March on March 20, 2018. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How to Read a Seed Packet by Paula Hamm

Photo by Paula Hamm
Growing plants from seed is incredibly rewarding and fascinating but there are a few things you need to know before you get started.  You can find nearly everything you need to know on the seed packet itself.  

First, every seed packet should list the common and Latin name of the seed inside the envelope.  It is not uncommon for more than one plant to have the same common name;  the Latin name can help you figure out whether the seed packet you are holding has the seeds you want.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

What Happens to Insects During the Winter?

Lady beetle on Asclepias speciosa, photo by Donna Duffy
Do you ever wonder what happens to insects over the winter months? What conditions allow them to survive? Why do some die and some overwinter? What beneficial and pesky insects will show up in my landscape this spring? Planttalk Colorado offers the following information on Insect Overwintering to help you answer these perplexing questions. 

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Not So Fast! Gardening Tips for Late Winter

Pulsatilla patens (Pasque flower) 

Yes, it does feel a bit like Spring outside. And yes, there are signs of life in your yard and garden. As tempting as it is, don’t go full-force into your gardening mode quite yet. Following are some gardening chores you can start right now, and others that you’ll need to wait to begin.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A to Z: Gardening Vocabulary for Beginners

Photo courtesy Donna Duffy
New to gardening? Here’s a cheat sheet of definitions to help you understand what those experienced gardeners are talking about!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Care for African Violets by Vicky Spelman

Photo Elaine Lockey
African violets can be a great indoor plant for Colorado. Their care is fairly simple and they will bless you with beautiful blooms. Here are tips for their care:
  • Light: Moderate to bright, indirect, indoor light.
  • Water: In general, African Violets need just enough water to keep the soil moist, but never soggy and should be room temperature. They have self-watering pots - a smaller pot with the violet sits in a larger pot that has a water fill line and when nearly empty refill.
  • Fertilizer: Your fertilization practices can also impact how well African violets bloom. Unlike plants that grow outdoors, houseplants are totally dependent on the grower to apply sufficient nutrients without overdoing it. The small pots these plants are typically grown in do not maintain a large reserve of nutrients. If you do not fertilize them on a regular basis, they may not have the necessary nutrients to spend on flowers. On the other hand, too much fertilizer with high nitrogen content can lead to lush foliage at the expense of flowers.
  • Other tips: Pinch off spent blossoms and blossom stems to encourage development of new blooms. Place plants away from floor vents, fans, or entrance doors to avoid air drafts and bursts of cold air.
For additional information: 

Why Isn’t my African Violet Blooming.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

George Washington and Planting Cherry Trees by Carol King

It’s George Washington’s birthday, (February 22, 1732) and it’s hard to think of our first president without the phrase “I cannot tell a lie” popping up.  The cherry tree myth is the most well-known and longest enduring legend about our first president. It was invented by one of Washington’s very first biographers, Mason Locke Weems. In the original story, when Washington was six years old he received a hatchet as a gift and damaged his father’s cherry tree. When his father discovered what he had done, he became angry and confronted him. Young George bravely said, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Washington’s father embraced him and rejoiced that his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees.1

Weems wanted to present Washington as the perfect role model, especially for young Americans. The cherry tree myth and other stories showed readers that Washington’s public greatness was due to his private virtues. William Holmes McGuffey, author of the McGuffey’s Readers, created a version of the cherry tree myth that appeared in his Eclectic Second Reader. This helped entrench the cherry tree myth in American culture. The myth has endured for more than two hundred years and has become an important part of Americans' cultural heritage.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Low Humidity in House Plants by Carol King

Plants on Pebble Tray. Photo
This time of year, Colorado gardeners turn to indoor plants to soothe our gardening souls.  However the indoor environment in our homes can be very harsh for many plants. Many house plants are native to humid, tropical rain forests and require special consideration when they reside in Colorado homes. While lighting and temperatures need to be monitored for successful indoor gardening, humidity is the big issue during colder months.  Heating systems common in Colorado circulate dry, warm air throughout the house. Our indoor environment often has less than 10 percent humidity. This is a drastic reduction from the 70 to 90 percent relative humidity levels found in the native climates of most tropical plants.

Why does this matter? Humidity is the level of moisture in the air and can affect a plant's need for water.  Plants grown indoors with low humidity lose more water through transpiration, so their root systems require more water. In addition, plants located near heating or cooling vents may develop leaf spots or brown tips.
Here are a few tips to help alleviate low humidity problems:
  • Misting plants may help alleviate this condition, however, it must be done frequently to be effective, and it may promote some foliar diseases. 
  • Place several plants together on a tray filled with gravel. Filling the tray with water provides the humidity many plants need. Make sure the bottom of the container does not stand in water; the soil will become water-logged and cause root damage. 
  • Use a humidifier around your plants. 
  • For house plants with moderate humidity needs, group them together during the heating season. Each plant gives off humidity through transpiration. Clusters of plants will create very good humidity in the surrounding air.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Keeping Roses Healthy During Winter

Rose canes greening up in Lakewood - January 22, 2018

Have you taken a look at your roses lately? This warm winter has created conditions for the canes to green up very early. It’s way too early to prune them! Instead, check to make sure your mulch layer is still intact, and add more if you’ve lost some to wind or critters.

The following information from the Denver Rose Society gives tips on rose care during these late winter months.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

February Words of the Month: Monoecious and Dioecious by Carol King

In honor of St. Valentine’s Day and an homage to love in the garden, the February horticulture word of the month is actually two words: ”dioecious” and “monoecious"; terms that refer to plant reproduction. The pronunciation for the two words is “dahy-EE-shuhs” and “muh-Nee-shuhs”.

A monoecious plant is one that can reproduce (that is, bloom and set seed) all on its own. Monoecious is translated as “single house,” meaning that male and female flowers are found on a single individual plant. It does not need a partner: a single plant bears both male and female flowers. Examples of monoecious plants are birch, hazelnut, oak, pine, spruce, corn, and squashes.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

St. Valentine and the Gift of Fresh Flowers by Carol King

Photo fellowshipofminds
Legends and lore abound on why we celebrate Valentine’s day by giving flowers to our loved ones.  Here’s one of my favorites. This one involves the lore of forbidden love and has been favored over other stories by hopeless romantics.

Emperor Claudius II issued an edict forbidding marriage because he felt that married men did not make good, loyal soldiers to fight in his army. They were weak because of the attachment to their wives and family. St. Valentine was a priest who defied Claudius and married couples secretly because he believed so deeply in love. Valentine was found out, put in prison, and later executed.

The law of irony then came into play, as St. Valentine fell in love with the daughter of the Emperor. Prior to his beheading, St. Valentine handed the lady a written note and a single red rose - the very first valentine and the very first fresh flower.  From this, the gifting of flowers for Valentine's day began.

Friday, February 9, 2018

The 2018 Great Backyard Bird Count By Joyce D’Agostino

Photo by Joyce D'Agostino

During the fall and winter when most of us are not outside working in a garden, birdwatching is often an enjoyable pastime. If you love watching the native birds come to your yard and feeder, then you might want to participate in this important and fun project from the Audubon Society.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Squirrel Damage in the Landscape

Photo courtesy Plantalk Colorado
Today I counted 6 squirrels frolicking and playing in my elm trees, and spotted another three in my neighbor's yard. Squirrels can cause a lot of damage in the garden, especially in years when untimely spring frosts (like we had in 2017) cause poor crops of crab apples and other fruits. Plantalk Colorado offers the following information about squirrel damage to trees and landscape plants.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Crocus already? Too early?

Crocus leaves in Lakewood, 1/17/18
It’s early February and some crocus are already emerging. In fact, crocus leaves appeared in my yard in mid-January. What’s going on?

An early bloom certainly isn’t unprecedented in Denver and Jefferson County. The National Phenology Network (NPN) collects reports on the status of plants around the country and combines them with weather data to create models of where spring has sprung. Just last year, data from the NPN indicated that Denver’s plants were blooming up to three weeks ahead of the average for 1981-2010.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

The Myth of Paper-based Sheet Mulch

Photo courtesy
Note: This information is excerpted from Horticultural Myths, Linda Chalker-Scott, Washington State University Extension. See link at bottom of article.

In their quest to create more sustainable landscapes – those that require fewer inputs of fertilizers, pesticides, and other resources – gardeners, landscapers, and restoration ecologists have focused on mulches. The use of mulches to suppress weeds and conserve soil water has a substantial agricultural history. Newspaper mulch, either as intact sheets or chopped and shredded, has been successful in reducing weeds and increasing yield in some row crops. Cardboard sheet mulch, often used in tree plantations, has been less reliable. These paper mulches are increasingly common in urban landscapes, especially restoration sites. Are they effective in suppressing weeds, maintaining soil water, and aiding plant establishment in this context?

Monday, January 29, 2018

Houseplant Choices

Maximum Yield Magazine offers eight of their favorite indoor winter houseplants.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Gardening Power to the People: Pruning Shrubs (Video)

When is the best time to prune shrubs? It depends! If it's a spring-blooming shrub, wait until the shrub has finished its spring bloom. Late winter is a good time to prune your summer blooming shrubs. Watch Master Gardener Gail's pruning tips.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Use Caution with De-Icing Salts

De-icing salt applicator, photo courtesy
Winter is in full swing in Jefferson County! Even though it's been a warm winter, snow and ice are inevitable. In addition to shoveling all that snow, many people also apply de-icing salts to make the walkways safe and passable. While these products can certainly help ensure safe footing in treacherous conditions, they can also damage the landscape plantings that they contact. So – what to do? Protect your footing or protect your plants? It’s possible to do both.

Monday, January 22, 2018

January Word of the Month: Winter Quiescence

Photo courtesy Donna Duffy
Have you ever wondered what's going on with your tree roots underneath all that winter snow? Michael Snyder, Chittenden (Vermont) County Forester, explains the concept of winter quiescence - a state in which tree roots are resting, but ready.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Rosemary “for Remembrance” By Olivia Tracy

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis); photo courtesy of PlantTalk Colorado
During Shakespeare’s time, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) was often associated with memory or remembering; it was given as a sign of friendship, and the early Herballs believed that the scent could “quicken the senses and memorie” (John Gerard, The Herball, Or Generall Historie of Plantes, 1597). These herbals may have been on to something-- recently, scientists have found possible relationships between the scent of rosemary and improved cognition.4

Today, rosemary is a welcome presence (and scent) in an indoor winter herb-garden. A Mediterranean plant, rosemary doesn’t tolerate low temperatures well; however, when planted in a container, you can keep it indoors during the winter, and move it outdoors during the warm summer months.2 You can buy rosemary plants from a store, or you can start them from seed. (You can also propagate rosemary through cuttings; however, it is best to take cuttings from rosemary in the spring or summer.)3 
  • Plant your rosemary plant in soilless mix (potting soil),2 and be sure to allow the soil to dry between watering (rosemary is a fairly drought-tolerant herb).1 
  • Apply water-soluble fertilizer every few weeks to help the plant thrive in the indoor space.2 
  • Like most herbs, rosemary loves sunlight, so be sure to place your rosemary plant in an area that will receive the largest amount of possible sunlight (in a south- or west-facing window).2 
If you’d like more information about rosemary, other herbs, and herb gardening, the following webpages were sources for this post, and are excellent sources to explore: 
1CMG GardenNotes #731, Herb Gardening
3If you hope to propagate rosemary or other herbs by cuttings, you may find useful advice in this article by the Missouri State Extension: 
4Recent study exploring the relationship between the scent of rosemary and cognition in schoolchildren: 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Gardening Power to the People: Cleaning Your Garden Tools (Video)

January is a great time to prepare your tools for the upcoming gardening season. Master Gardener Gail demonstrates an easy way to sharpen and clean all your devises.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr World Peace Rose Garden

Photo courtesy National Park Service

The International World Peace Rose Gardens program is a worldwide effort to help youth recognize the importance and value of peace. In March 1992, the Martin Luther King, Jr. "I Have a Dream" World Peace Rose Garden was planted at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. The garden is an artistic interpretation of Dr. King’s life and ideals of peace through nonviolence. The garden’s starburst design brings attention to the brilliance of Dr. King’s ideals using the Official Flower of the United States, the rose.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Easy Houseplants for Your Indoor Garden

January in Colorado is a tough time to be a gardener in Colorado. Having a collection of indoor plants is one way to assuage our desire to be in the garden. Dry furnace air and lack of sunshine makes indoor gardening a challenge along the Front Range. Organic Life Magazine suggests eight very simple to grow house plants.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Top 2018 New Year’s Resolutions for a Great Garden in Colorado by Carol King

Photo Wikipedia Commons
Having a thriving garden in Colorado can be a challenge with our erratic, weather, water restrictions, and heavy clay soils.  However making these seven resolutions will give you a much greater chance for a successful garden.
  1. Get a soil test from a reputable soil testing lab before adding any amendments. Adding amendments without knowing what your soil needs is, at best a waste of money and at worst harmful to the soil and your plants. The Soil Testing Laboratory at Colorado State University is a great place to start:
  1. Use mulch in the garden to suppress weeds and hold in moisture.  Mulches also improve water penetration and air movement; control soil temperature fluctuation; protect shallow-rooted plants from freeze damage and frost heave and improve soil structure and nutrient availability. This CSU fact sheet will help you choose the most appropriate mulch for your garden:

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Book Review: “The Flower Farmer, an Organic Grower’s Guide to Raising and Selling Cut Flowers” by Lynn Byczynski Reviewed by: Joyce D’Agostino

Did you know that the majority of fresh cut flowers sold through the floral industry come from outside of the United States? Often this means that the flowers coming into the US for the florists shops travel very long distances, have been handled many times, cut days or weeks ago and may be exposed to herbicides and pesticides along the way.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

What are “Chill Hours” (and why is this important to my fruit trees?) By Joyce D’Agostino

Golden Delicious Apples, photo courtesy Stark Bro's Nursery

If you have fruit trees in your landscape, you may have noticed that some years the trees seem to produce abundantly, other years there is less of a crop. This can be puzzling to figure out why some years are considered a ‘good fruit year’, and others are not.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Happy New Year 2018!

Great advice for all the gardeners out there. Happy New Gardening Year!