Please Take Our Reader Survey

Complete our reader survey by February 24 for a chance to win a copy of “Plant Partners” by Jessica Walliser.

Hello Blog Readers!

Can you believe our CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardener blog is turning 6 years old next month?

To celebrate, we’d like to ask for your help. Please take our short readers’ survey to share your ideas for blog topics and suggestions for increasing readership.

It’s a short survey with 9 questions that should take just a few minutes to complete. Here’s the link to the survey for readers who haven’t taken it already:

CSU Extension-Denver Blog Survey

As a special incentive, everyone who completes the survey by the deadline of February 24 will be entered in a drawing to win one of three copies of the new gardening book called “Plant Partners: Science-based Companion Planting Strategies for the Vegetable Garden” by Jessica Walliser.

Thank you for your continued support of our CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardener blog! We’re looking forward to hearing your ideas.

Best wishes,
The Blog Team
Linda McDonnell
Felicia Brower
Jodi Torpey
Merrill Kingsbury

Growing Currants in Colorado

By Felicia Brower, Colorado Master Gardener since 2020

Photo credit: Jodi Torpey

What are Currants

Currants (Ribes spp.) are edible and ornamental deciduous shrubs that can reach three to six feet in height. In addition to being an attractive addition to the yard, the pea-sized fruits contain several minerals and are high in vitamins A, B, and C. Currants are hardy and thornless, and the fruits grow in a grape-like cluster on a drooping stem called a “strig.”

There are several varieties of currants, including red, black, white, and golden. Red currants are tart and are often used in fruit and jelly production. Black currants can also be used for jams and jellies, but they’re also used to make liqueur. White and golden currants have sweeter flavors and can be enjoyed directly off of the plant.

How and When to Start Currants

Currants do well in fertile, loamy soil that has good drainage with full sun, so it’s best to plant them on north-facing slopes and use mulch to moderate soil temperature fluctuations. The optimum pH is 6.2 to 6.5, but they’ll tolerate 5.5 to 7.0. At a higher pH, the fruit quantity may be limited, but the plants can still be used for ornamental landscaping. To find out your soil’s pH level, conduct a soil test through Colorado State University.

You can propagate currants from cuttings of year-old stems, or you can purchase the plants from your local nursery (often grown in containers as two- or three-year-old plants) or through a catalog (sold as one- or two-year old bare-root plants). Purchase quality, disease-free plants to ensure that you have high yields and fewer plant problems down the road.

Photo credit: Jodi Torpey

Due to their hardy nature, you can plant currants 3.5 to 4.5 feet apart in early spring as soon as the soil is workable. Prior to planting, prune out all damaged roots and branches. Keep the plants cool and moist until they go into the ground, and soak bare root plants in water for three to four hours right before planting. Cut all of the branches back to five inches and set plants one to two inches below the soil line in holes wider than their roots. Water well.

Plant Maintenance

To ensure that you have the highest possible yield, control weeds to reduce competition and use mulch to reduce weeds, watering, and injury to roots caused by cold-weather temperature fluctuations. Currants can have pest problems, including aphids, cane borers, and red spider mites. Address any pest problems immediately to prevent yield reductions and ongoing damage to the plant.

When to Pick Currants

Currants will rarely fruit in the first year, and typically don’t produce well until two to five years after planting. The plants from nurseries have often been growing for two to three years already, so you can expect fruit immediately from those. Currants are extremely long lived and can continue producing for two to three decades if properly maintained.

Harvest your currants mid to late summer. When using the fruit for jellies and jams, harvest before the fruit is fully ripe so that natural fruit pectin levels will be higher. You can eat the fruit of some currant varieties right off the vine or immediately use it for juice but some, especially the black currant, have a strong taste that might not be favorable.  For storage, refrigerate the freshly picked fruit in a covered container or closed bag for several weeks or dry them and use them as a substitute for raisins. They will keep on the vine for several weeks, so you can also just leave them on until you’re ready to use them.

Photo credit: Jodi Torpey

End-Season Care & Overwintering

After you harvest your plants completely, reduce the amount of water to harden the plants prior to winter. Give the plant a final deep watering in November to reduce drying during the winter.

You must prune currants if you want to continue to get a high yield. In late winter or early spring, prior to bud swelling, remove all wood more than three years old and thin out any younger wood until you’re left with three upright stems each of three-, two- and one-year-old wood.

Get Ready, It’s Almost Time To Start Seeds

Pixabay.com

While it is still a bit too early to start seeds indoors, now is the time to plan: decide what to grow, choose veggie, herb, and ornamental varieties, order seeds online, or purchase them at the garden center, and take stock of supplies like sterile planting medium and containers with drainage holes. Keep in mind that popular varieties sell out quickly, especially with the increase in gardening’s popularity and possible delivery delays similar to 2020.

Determine starting the starting time for your indoor seedlings by counting backward from mid-May, the approximate first frost-free date on the Front Range. Most seeds need to be started indoors six weeks before planting outdoors. This Colorado State University Fact Sheet contains a seed-starting chart for common vegetables and ornamentals. Refer to the back of the seed package for precise growing directions.

If you’d like a seed starting refresher or are new to the practice, more details are available on these earlier blog posts:

Starting Seeds Indoors – Step-by-step process for germination and tips on setting up a fluorescent lighting system and using a heat mat.

How to Read a Seed Packet – what you learn from the packet can be the key to success.

How Long Will Seeds Last? – pitch old seeds or plant them? Tips for telling which is best.

Starting the garden indoors is economical, rewarding, and fun; it is also a way to jump-start the growing season and chase away the winter doldrums!

Written by: Linda McDonnell, Denver Master Gardener since 2013

Gardening Predictions for 2021

There may have been one bright spot among the gloom of 2020: The pandemic turned out to be great for horticulture. Experts estimate the industry gained 16-20 million new gardeners during the pandemic.

They’re predicting 85% of those gardeners will continue this year.

If that prediction holds true, experienced gardeners will be competing with new gardeners for seeds, plants, potting soil, mulch, tools, accessories and anything else that helps with planting and growing.

Last year seed catalogs, online retailers and garden shops couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming spring demand. More than a few had to shut down their online systems so they could catch up with orders.

Even though companies say they’re better prepared this year, gardeners should plan ahead and order their favorite varieties yesterday.

Backyard, front yard, patio and balcony food growing will continue to engage new and newer gardeners. Those who had some success last season will be anxious to expand their gardens; those who wished they would’ve started last season will get growing this year. They’ll be on the lookout for heirlooms and all kinds of organic options.

Some plants will sell out sooner than others because of special marketing and promotional programs. That’s especially true for the National Garden Bureau’s Plants of the Year for 2021.

Every year the national organization selects and promotes its Crops of the Year plants. The selections are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile, according to the NGB.

The 2021 Plants of the Year include:

Annual: Sunflowers
Perennial: Monardas
Bulb crop: Hyacinths
Edible: Garden beans
Shrub: Hardy hibiscus

Plant Select has three new introductions for this year that include Drew’s Folly Hardy Snapdragon (Antirrhinum sempervirens), Hokubetsi (Helichrysum trilineatum) and Blanca Peak Rocky Mountain Beardtongue. The Plant Select website features a list of retailers that offer Plant Select plants so you can call ahead to check on availability.

Smaller garden varieties are part of All-America Selections winning plants this year. Goldilocks squash and Pot-a-peno peppers are meant for small-space gardens. The AAS’s Gold Medal winner is Profusion Red Yellow bicolor zinnia that’s sure to be in demand.

The Perennial Plant Association selected Calamintha nepta (calamint) as its Perennial Plant of the Year for 2021. A nice rock garden and border plant, tiny white flowers bloom on a bushy low mounding plant that attracts pollinators to the garden.

Houseplants will continue to be in demand to fill home offices and windowsills that have turned into miniature greenhouses. New offerings include plants that drape over pot edges and tiny plants for tiny places.

Pantone’s colors of the year will show up in plants, flower colors, pottery and other garden accessories. Look for combinations of Illuminating Yellow and Ultimate Gray at big box stores, garden centers, the plant sections at grocery stores and wherever else gardening supplies are sold.

New gardeners will continue searching for resources, help and advice. CSU Extension master gardeners will need to be extra-creative when it comes to cultivating community from a distance, encouraging new gardeners to reach out for reliable information and finding ways to reduce the fear of failure for beginning gardeners.

If you have any gardening predictions for 2021, look into your crystal ball and add your forecast here.

By Jodi Torpey
CSU Extension master gardener since 2005
Image provided by Pixabay

Children’s Book Review: Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt

If you are looking for a way to inspire a child to learn more about nature or become your gardening buddy, Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner is a book to check out.

It’s an enjoyable story, with playful illustrations that are a feast for the eyes. The illustrations encourage curious kids (and kid-like adults) to linger on the page and delight in finding more details in each image. “Oh look, there’s a….”

The story takes us through a year in Nana’s garden, as she shares the wonder of gardening and nature with her granddaughter.

The characters joyfully tend the plants with organic practices such as shooing aphids with strong sprays of water and spreading compost on the garden beds. Biodiversity, pollination, and ecology are introduced in easily understood, playful ways.

Kids learn that the garden is a community of plants, insects, and animals – with activity above and below ground. A healthy, vibrant garden requires gardeners to weed, water, and tend, while insects and animals help the plants thrive – robins feast on beetles and slugs, earthworms aerate the soil, bats, and bees pollinate plants, to name a few. 

Keeping it real, not-so-helpful visitors are discussed too – such as mischievous rabbits, harmful tomato hornworms, busy-after-dark skunks, and chewing aphids.  

The book is suggested for kids up to age eight and as young as two. Messner includes an appendix with more info on each animal, which should not be missed.  Published in 2015 to rave reviews, it has likely encouraged lots of little gardeners.

Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener since 2013

Image: Amazon.com

Mistletoe

European Mistletoe (Viscum album) courtesy of Pixabay.com

A surprise, mischievous smooch under the mistletoe is a December tradition steeped in folklore. Many historians believe that pre-Christian Europeans believed the plant possessed powers as an aphrodisiac, fertility stimulant, and poison eradicator, to name just a few. Our contemporary adaptation of this yuletide custom is far more innocent but still retains the spirit of romance.

Ironically, while mistletoe is synonymous with affection, it is far less hospitable to many tree species.

Dwarf mistletoe. Colorado State Forest Service

Mistletoe is the common name for several families of parasitic plant species that grow on the branches of trees by root-like structures which bore under the plant’s bark. These “roots” extract nutrients and moisture from the host plant; over time, the host plant will develop deformed or discolored growth, called witches’ brooms.

Infected trees decline from the top down and may die prematurely. Damage can, in some cases, be reversed with proper pruning maintenance. Details can be found in this Colorado State University fact sheet. 

In Colorado, five western North American species of dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium species) infect conifers. Common host trees include lodgepole, limber, pinyon, and ponderosa pines.  

Unlike the decorative European mistletoe (Viscum album), that has woody stems, white berries, and smooth leaves, dwarf mistletoes are small, leafless, yellow-ish plants with inconspicuous berries. 

References

Mistletoes in Colorado Conifers. Colorado State University Extension, Fact Sheet 2.925

Dwarf Mistletoe: Parasitic Plants.  Colorado State Forestry Service

Author

Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

 

More Thanks for Our Gardens

Giving Garden Thanks – 2020
By Parry Burnap, CMG since 2016

My psyche unsettled in waking and sleeping hours by
flames, floods, blowdowns, protests, and infections,
across the lands, on our streets, within our families, in our lungs.
My heart aching from the sacrifices of the most vulnerable among us,
smiles covered, hugs restrained, and gatherings digitized.
2020, my 65th year,
called into question the little I thought I understood.
Tectonic forces cleared the way for an unknowable time I likely will never see.
These days were a long time coming and will be a long time still.

Safe at home with more time and attention that I could not spend elsewhere,
I walked steps to the garden, further than any vehicle could have taken me.
Pollinators loaded heavy with yellow dust buzzed clumsy in the dance of life.
Answers revealed themselves in cycles of rebirth and exquisite order
within riotous transformation.
Dumbstruck by color and light, I was surprised by Joy.
Nourishment and sanctuary, the garden was my place and time,
my guide to here and now, where I start over and over again
to do the never-ending work at hand.

Giving Thanks for Our Gardens

Photo by Anne Burke

Thanksgiving 2020 is a good time to reflect on a year filled with a cornucopia of challenges. Many gardeners consoled themselves by planting flowers, tending vegetable beds, pruning neglected shrubs and pulling up weeds.

Our gardens never looked better.

This year let’s serve up a heaping helping of gratitude to every garden for the comfort provided during such difficult times. (Compiled by Jodi Torpey, CMG since 2005)

My garden gave me sanity and some sense of normalcy. My garden had no idea a pandemic was going on, my plants felt extra love from me for sure!
Merrill Kingsbury Master Gardener Program Assistant
(Photo by Parry Burnap)

More than ever, my garden this year gave me purpose, peace and perspective.
In the spring when we were in lockdown, the garden was there to give me purpose. Rather than being stuck at home I felt safe at home and happy to have the time to work in the garden. In mid-summer, my husband was severely burned. During the four surgeries, skin grafts and lengthy recovery, I had our lovely garden to find solace and peace. As summer turned to fall, the harvest of blooms and vegetables brought joy and at times laughter. Like the perennials in my garden, I was grounded in the garden and I was growing where I was planted. It was here I found perspective. To all that and so much more, I am grateful this Thanksgiving!
Anne Burke, CMG since 2009

 

Covid’s confinement directed me to my garden. There I could see the lives of plants, insects, animals, fungi, carry on as usual. Usual! The garden’s delightful creatures allowed my world to expand to their universes and notice so much with focused time. How thankful I am for my bit of land that gives so much by its own being.
Susan Tamulonis, CMG since 2018

 

This Covid year, the routine of lockdown days spilled into our gardens. We all had more time to focus our energies on tweaking, replanting, dividing and sharing. I was concerned for the birds who came to my feeders; they learned to ignore the barking puppy. Now I have the most overfed doves in Denver County.
Anna P. Jones, CMG since 2019
(Photo by Susan Tamulonis)

This year my garden gave me a bit of solace from the trauma and immense grief of losing one of my daughters. I am grateful for the beauty, bounty and peace it has given me as I struggle.
Donna Baker-Breningstall, CMG since 2012

Our garden gave us zucchini bread and heirloom tomatoes for Caprese salads this year…it was the highlight of the summer and fall to pick and eat the tomatoes or bake the bread.
Dee Becker, CMG since 2010
(Photo by Anne Burke)

Keeping a Garden Journal for a Successful Next Season

Written by Felicia Brower, Colorado Master Gardener since 2020

As you reflect on this year’s summer gardening season, it might be tempting to believe that you’ll remember everything important until next spring. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always work out, and you run the risk of doing a lot of guesswork when you’re getting started again next year. The solution? A garden journal! If you don’t already have a garden journal, now’s a perfect time to start one.

Instead of trying to remember what went well and what didn’t each year (or even from month to month), write it all down to refer back to at a later time. If you take the time to write down a list of what worked, what didn’t, and what changes you want to make, you can easily improve your garden in the future.

You can make your own garden journal out of something basic (I use the Composition Notebook pictured above), or you can purchase one at your local bookstore. There are also garden journal apps you can download if you prefer to go in a digital direction.

STARTING A JOURNAL

To get started with your garden journal, decide what information you want to remember. Many people choose to record things like sketches or photos of their gardens, planting dates, problems they ran into, and things that went well. Some people also like to add in general reflections about nature and the time they spend in their gardens.

WHAT TO RECORD

If you choose to make your own journal, you can customize it however you want. Keep track of anything you think is important to remember.

If you aren’t sure where to start, consider the following questions:

  • What did you grow this year?
  • What grew well?
  • What didn’t grow as well as you would have liked? Any idea why?
  • What took up more space than you anticipated?
  • Were there any nearby trees or structures that covered parts of your garden?
  • Was the sunlight too intense for any of your plants?
  • Did you struggle with pests or disease?
  • What do you want to plant next year?
  • Where do you want to plant everything?

If you plan on doing crop rotations, drawing a sketch of where things were this year can be extremely helpful, especially if you’re not quite ready to plan your 2021 garden yet. Instead of wasting time trying to remember in the spring, you can flip open your garden journal and get a map of exactly where everything was.

It’s also worth noting when external events happen each year. Was there a certain time when you noticed a certain pest appeared? Were the storms worse during some months more than others? Keep track of things as they happen so that you can predict them in future years and work to avoid preventable damage to your plants.

You can also record any expenses (seeds, pots, fertilizer, etc.) to keep track of how much you’re spending on your garden each year and to find ways to possibly reduce the costs.

Note the repairs you have to make around the garden and how often you’re making them. If you’re spending a lot of time repairing something, it might be time to replace it.

If you just want to note the major things, keep track of what you plant, the exact date you plant things in the spring, and what brand of seed you use. The frost dates are great guides for when you should plant things, but it also helps to know specifically when you started, planted, or transplanted things in previous years.

Keep track of where you purchase your seeds, how much you paid for them, how well they performed so that you can make any necessary adjustments.

Wrap down the season in the fall with a review of how things went the previous summer. It will be a great resource to rely on when you’re planning for the future.

WHEN TO RECORD

There are no set rules about when you have to record things in your journal, but it’s easier to keep it updated if you make a regular practice of it. Taking five minutes to write small updates every time you’re out will paint a picture of what’s going on in your garden to look back on when you’re planning for an upcoming season.

TIPS FOR HAVING A SUCCESSFUL JOURNAL

Whether it’s daily, weekly, or monthly, set aside regular time to write in your journal. Write down anything that feels important at the time. (You won’t remember specifics a year from now, so if it seems important now, write it down.)

Make sure that you can read your handwriting and understand what you write. It’s easy to scribble something down in the moment, but if you don’t go back and make sure that it’s clear, it’ll be a mystery when you read it later.

Your garden journal should be beneficial for you and with it you can learn how to manage problems more efficiently and increase your harvests. What you record in your garden journal is up to you, so have fun with it and do whatever you need to do to get the most out of it.

Garden Tool Maintenance

As the gardening season draws to a close, this is an excellent time to clean up your pruners, loppers, shovels, and any other tools used throughout the year. I know, I know, you are tired and ready for a break from the yard. Understandable. But you’ll thank yourself next spring if you do these tasks now.

Most importantly, you’ll ensure that plant diseases do not overwinter in the remnants of leaves, stems, and caked-on soil and infect plants next season.

So, if you want to get on top of these tasks, here are some helpful tips.

Clean and Disinfect

A strong spray of water will make tools look clean, but don’t stop there. Go a step further and disinfect.

A 10% solution of bleach will kill fungi, bacteria, and viruses in seconds. Dip, soak, or submerge the tool or container in the solution. and be sure the solution gets into the crevice. Thoroughly rinse and dry metal surfaces to avoid corrosion.

The University of California tested and ranked the disinfecting effectiveness of common household cleaners which are less toxic than bleach. You’ll find these very helpful recommendations here. You may already have some of these products in your cleaning arsenal.

Rubbing alcohol (70% or greater isopropyl alcohol) from your medicine cabinet will also disinfect surfaces for bacteria, fungi, and viruses.

A word of caution: Rubbing alcohol of any concentration was not found to effectively kill fire blight, a highly contagious bacterial disease that affects species in the Rosaceae family, including many apple and pear trees. Tools should be sanitized after each cut of a limb affected by this disease.

Sharpen and Store

A sharp edge on hand pruners, shovels, and hoes make them easier to use and ensures that cuts to plant material are smoother. Since ragged surfaces allow pathogens to enter plant material and can cause the spread of disease, sharpening tools is a smart preventive practice.

Sharpening garden tools with a flat-file is a pretty easy task – take care to follow all safety instructions, or check to see if your local hardware store offers this service. Don’t forget lawnmower blades, too.

3-in-1 lubricant can be applied to the joints of tools to keep them at their best. Small tools can be stored in a bucket of sand. The coarseness of the sand helps keep the edges sharp and the sand wicks moisture and inhibits rust.

There you go, now you can kick up your feet and enjoy the gardening off-season. Or, if you’re a tool-lover, you might want to reread this post on Denver Master Gardeners’ favorite tools.

Additional Reading

Tool Maintenance, Plant Talk Colorado

Images

Rake and shovel: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Wheelbarrel: Image by Manfred Antranias Zimmer from Pixabay

Basket of tools: Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver Master Gardener since 2012