Meet the Garden Squad—Gardening Help at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet the Gardening Help Volunteers

The CSU Extension Master Gardeners usually pick up the gardening helpline at the Denver Botanic Gardens or answer questions when people walk-in the door. Even though buildings at DBG are closed for now, gardeners can still get their gardening questions answered by Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at Denver Botanic Gardens, only remotely.

The interest in gardening has soared ever since people have had to hunker down at home and find ways to keep busy. First-time gardeners will likely have questions on how to get started, what to plant now, what can grow in containers, and much more.

Even gardeners with some experience have questions, too. All gardening questions can be emailed to gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org and a CMG, working remotely, will reply by email.

Gardening Help volunteers include: Back row, left to right: Jan Fahs, Jan Davis, Ken Zwenger, Mark Zammuto, Gordon Carruth, Fran Hogan
Middle row: Lynne Conroy, Harriet Palmer Willis, Kathleen Schroeder, Leona Berger, Cindy Hanna, Mary Adams, Nancy Downs
Kneeling: Dee Becker, Charlotte Aycrigg, Jan Moran
Not pictured: Mary Carnegie, Linda Hanna, Maggie Haskett, April Montgomery, Ann Moore, Kathy Roth, Amy White

Gardening Help is a project of the CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardeners at the DBG. Volunteers provide reliable and research-based information to thousands of home gardeners each year.

Volunteers commit to at least one year in the role, with a minimum of six shifts spread across the year. The commitment starts early in the year with an orientation and training from Nancy Downs, project coordinator.

Many volunteers are GH regulars and they return to the project every year. In addition to being an active CMG, they have to satisfy DBG volunteer requirements, too. That means they’re a member of the DBG and enrolled there as a volunteer.

Some of the key characteristics of GH volunteers are good research, plant identification and diagnostic skills. Because the project is located at DBG, volunteers need to keep on top of what’s blooming at the DBG by season, so they can answer common questions that might pop up.

Photo provided by Nancy Downs

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad’s Nancy Downs

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Nancy Downs

Horticulture is the thread that connects the stepping stones in the career path of Nancy Downs. She became a CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardener in 1993, and since 2005 she’s been the project coordinator of Gardening Help (GH) from Colorado Master Gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

A year-round volunteer commitment, GH provides research-based information to thousands of home gardeners by phone, email and those who drop by. In 2019 the GH team of 20 volunteers answered over 2300 questions.

It’s the thrill of the possibility of new discoveries that helps drive Nancy’s passion in botany and plant identification.

“Plant ID is endlessly fascinating,” she said. “It’s fascinating to bump into mystery plants and try to make the correct identification. It makes a huge difference in management recommendations.”

Nancy is a Native Plant Master, but said there’s always something new to learn. She also enjoys teaching woody plant and native plant identification.

In 2019 Nancy’s garden received special recognition from the Colorado Native Plant Society. Blonde Ambition Blue Grama grass provides a golden backdrop. (Image by Nancy Downs)

In 2019 her Park Hill garden received a gold certification from the Colorado Native Plant Society (CoNPS).  The Certified Native Plant Garden recognition is meant to increase awareness of native plants and how they help provide “habitat for Colorado Native Plants and native wildlife,” according to the CoNPS website.

Nancy said she considers her garden a laboratory for experimenting with plants. The garden is about 30 years old and has gone through a number of phases as her taste and interests have evolved.

“At one point I felt I needed an all-white garden, but now it’s a big mish-mash. I’ve tried to mix natives into an existing older neighborhood with shade trees,” she explained.

The front garden includes Foxtail Lilies, white-blooming shrub rose and sunflowers. (Image by Nancy Downs)

Nancy said she’s drawn to the texture and architectural interest of her landscape plants instead of flowers. A list of her favorites includes Gambel oak, rabbitbrush, Arctostaphylos, ornamental grasses, buffalograss, junipers, yucca and, of course, much more.

Her interest in plants took root when working for the Boulder Parks and Recreation Department while an undergraduate at the University of Colorado. She was part of the team responsible for planting and tending the gardens at Central Park

After graduating with a degree in International Affairs, she worked in Washington, D.C., as press secretary for then-Congresswoman Pat Schroeder. When she returned to Colorado, she earned a law degree from the University of Denver and spent a few years working in Denver’s District Attorney’s office.

Nancy said she finally circled back to her first love of horticulture while working with Denver Botanic Gardens, Hudson Gardens, Denver Water Xeriscape clinics and Aurora Water Conservation Design clinics.

She even had her own design business, Nancy Downs Garden Design, for over 20 years specializing in residential design in Denver’s older neighborhoods.

In addition to coordinating Gardening Help as a Denver Master Gardener, she’s involved in other volunteer projects.

“A favorite recent project was the 2018 Botanical Survey of the High Line Canal carried out by Dr. Chrissy Alba from DBG’s Research and Conservation Department for the High Line Canal Conservancy,” she said.

The combination of yellow Mountain Goldenbanner and Dwarf purple iris is stunning when in full bloom. (Image by Nancy Downs)

Nancy encourages other Master Gardeners to continue working on their plant identification skills. She said an understanding of botanical Latin is important when trying to identify whether a plant is native or not.

Her hope is that more gardeners will want to add native plants to their landscapes and can start by asking nurseries to increase their availability.

Gardening Help Contact Information

To reach the Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at the Denver Botanic Gardens call 720-865-3575 or email gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org. GH is staffed April-October on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays (noon-4:00 p.m.); November-March on Tuesdays (noon-4:00 p.m.)

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Meet the Garden Squad’s Kim Douglas

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers.

Meet Kim Douglas

Denver Master Gardener Kim Douglas enjoys a day in Crested Butte.

If anyone is cut out to be a Denver Master Gardener, it’s Kim Douglas. She’s as passionate about learning as she is about sharing what she’s learned.

This comes naturally to Kim, a retired English as a Second Language teacher and a current Library Program Associate on staff at Denver Public Library.

Her part-time work at the library includes programming that ranges from helping people learn how to use their smartphones and tablets to hands-on work with sewing and embroidery.

“I’m on my third chapter,” she said. “I’m excited about getting and giving training.”

One of the library programs she’s involved with is called Plaza. This special program is designed to meet the needs of immigrant, refugee, and asylee populations. Kim helps participants learn and practice English, prepares them to take their citizenship test, and lends a hand to children with arts and crafts projects.

“It’s very rewarding and a wonderful experience to help people in a way where they really need help,” she said.

Kim became a Master Gardener apprentice in 2018, something she always wanted to do and the first thing she did when she retired from teaching.

Fourth of July fireworks in Kim’s garden.

Part of the attraction was gaining a sense of accomplishment by taking her gardening hobby to the next level.

“I knew I’d get a lot of information about gardening and get a good grasp of the science behind gardening in Colorado, even though I had been doing it for years,” she explained.

One of her big “aha” moments was when she learned about soil compaction and how important it is to not work in wet soil, something she used to do on weekends when she was working fulltime.

Kim’s advice to Master Gardener apprentices is to take advantage of all the information and experience within the organization. “Be active, be involved, go to meetings and special events, get to know people.”

She’s taken her own advice to heart. At last season’s DMG plant sale she designed a better system to standardize the plant signage. From her experience the previous year, she realized signs could be more descriptive to help customers find exactly what they wanted.

‘Queen of the Night’ tulips add stunning color to Kim’s garden.

Kim said she also enjoys volunteering at the Master Gardener booth at the Farmers Market and helping with the Plant Select plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens annual plant sale.

“It’s fun, interesting and I develop a relationship with those plants,” she said. “I guess it’s just lust—plant lust—that makes me say, ‘I must have that plant’ like the ruby muhly ornamental grass I saw there.”

Her garden is filled to the brim with those love-at-first-sight plants. Part of the front yard is xeriscaped with native and low-water plants displayed in a big swath.

“In my garden I strive for an explosion of colors like gems and fireworks.” One of her favorite displays is a combination of plants that is in full flower around the Fourth of July.

It includes dark red daylilies planted with white Shasta daisies and highlighted with sea holly (Eryngium). She said the “funky, spiky” sea holly plants produce striking purple-blue flowers that look like small glowing thistles.

It’ easy to see why’Black Nigra’ hollyhocks attract attention.

When it comes to the gem colors, she selects plants that have such rich and vibrant flowers that passersby have to slow down or stop to appreciate them.

Some of the show-stopper plants include ‘Dark Magician Girl’ daylilies, ‘Ebony Dream’ iris, ‘Black Nigra’ hollyhocks, and ‘Queen of the Night’ tulips.

In the backyard vegetable garden she plants tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, and tomatillos – “everything to make a nice salsa” – plus eggplants and potatoes.

Kim said she’ll be combining her passions for teaching and gardening this season. She’s on the schedule to present programs on propagating plants and raised bed gardening at several library branches this spring.

Images provides by Kim Douglas

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Poinsettia Challenge – Steps for Reblooming

plant-185709_1280It’s January and the holidays are behind us, but if you can’t bring yourself to toss your poinsettia plant, why not try to coax it into reblooming next December? It takes basic indoor plant care skills, perseverance and some properly timed steps to insure flowering.  Here are season-by-season instructions for success.

Winter: Protect the plant from cold and drafts, with daytime temperatures of 67-70 degrees, nighttime temperatures of 60-62 degrees. To maintain healthy foliage, fertilize monthly following balanced houseplant fertilizer directions, water when the soil is dry below the surface but not soggy.  Avoid “wet feet” by draining excess water from the plant saucer.

Watch for mealy bugs (cottony puffs), which can be easily removed with a cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol.

ec001cosSpring: By late March or early April the plant will look tired – it’ll most likely have dried, yellowed or fallen leaves. You’ll be tempted to put the plant out of its misery at this point!Instead, remove the bracts and part of the stem, ideally leaving 3-4 leaves on each stem. This pruning can be done anytime through mid-July.

Late spring/early summer: Repot the plant in a pot that is one size larger (approximately 1-2” inch larger in diameter). Use a quality, well-drained potting mixture, fortified with 1 tablespoon super phosphate (0-46-0) per gallon of soil mix. Slow-release fertilizer applied to the soil surface is also beneficial if the soil mix does not already include fertilizer.

Summer: When outdoor temperatures are consistently above 60 degrees, the plant can live outdoors in a shaded area such as a porch.

It will be putting on a lot of growth during this time and should be pruned about every six weeks to promote side branching and good form. Stop pruning in late August.

Late Summer: If the plant has been outdoors, you’ll want to bring it in around Labor Day or when nighttime temperatures drop below 55 degrees. Place it in a sunny or bright location with temperatures of 65-75 degrees. Continue monthly fertilizing.

ec002cosFall: Poinsettias require 8-10 weeks of shortened days to stimulate flowering. Starting the first week of October, put the plant in complete darkness for about 15 hours a day -ideally 5pm-8am.

It can be covered with a big box, put in a closet or sequestered in a room with no light at all.  Longer, completely dark nights and bright, shorter days are the key to successful reblooming. This step is non-negotiable.

Around Thanksgiving, colored bracts should appear. This is the sign to stop the dark treatment, continue fertilizing to promote blooms and keep in a warm, bright spot in your home and enjoy your holiday plant!

I have a big, beautiful poinsettia, have set my calendar reminders and am ready to give this a try.  How bout you?

Additional reading:

https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/poinsettias-7-412/

https://extension.unh.edu/resource/poinsettias-care-and-reflowering-fact-sheet

Photo: Pixabay.com

Drawings: Colorado State University

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Indoor Evergreens for Good Health

An evergreen wreath on the front door and a real tree in the family room are conventional decorations for the holiday season. So are those beautiful winter containers filled with evergreen branches sitting on the porch.

But evergreens are much more than outdoor decor.

When placed indoors the greenery adds to the holiday scenery, but it’s that fresh scent that makes them indispensable.

Just like walking in the forest and “forest bathing” are therapeutic, using evergreens indoors is beneficial, too. Evergreens give us a healthy dose of phytoncides when we take a deep breath. These wood essential oils are the same airborne chemicals that trees and other plants give off in nature.

Pine scents and forest atmospheres not only remind us of the holidays, but they benefit our health physically, mentally and physiologically, according to the Michigan State University Extension.

“Phytoncides are antimicrobial volatile compounds produced by plants for their own defenses. It is not entirely clear how those scents affect human brains and bodies, but early research suggests they reduce stress hormones and enhance white-blood activity that boosts immunity and make us less susceptible to disease.”

This season, when you can’t get to the forest for a brisk walk, consider adding fresh evergreens throughout the house. Look for enclosed spaces where people gather, like the entry way, kitchen, dining room, study, family room, bedrooms, game room and even bathrooms.

Interior designers suggest tying small bunches of fresh greens to cabinets, placing on counter tops, filling bowls of greens on desks and side tables, draping swags to top window dressings and creating indoor hanging baskets.

Evergreens for the best scent include pine, cedar, balsam and juniper. Gardeners can clip from the landscape or look for fresh and aromatic branches at garden centers. Avoid any boughs that are already dry and brittle.

Experts recommend treating indoor branches like fresh lilac stems by keeping them in water to make them last the longest.

Use a sharp knife or garden shears to cut woody stems at a 45-degree angle and split the bottoms of the stems with the back of the clippers or small hammer. Strip the foliage that will be submerged in water.

Keep greens away from direct sunlight and heat sources. Treating them with an anti-desiccant plant spray or misting daily with water will help keep the foliage on the stems.

This season, forget the scented holiday candles and use fresh fragrant pine or cedar branches to lower stress and get in the holiday spirit during this busy time of the year.

Text and images by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Test Your Poinsettia IQ

poinsettia-458762_960_720Poinsettias (Euphorbia pulcherrima) are making their December debut this week. With up to 50 million plants sold annually, you are likely to give,  receive, or at the very least, encounter the plant in your daily travels this holiday season.

How much do you know about the care and history of this botanical holiday plant?

True or False? Poinsettias are highly poisonous – keep children and pets away.

Mostly false. According to the University of Illinois Extension, “A study at Ohio State University showed that a 50-pound child would have to eat more than a pound-and-a-quarter of Poinsettia leaves (500 to 600 leaves) to have any side effects. The leaves are reportedly not very tasty, so it’s highly unlikely that kids or even pets would be able to eat that many!” So, while ingestion can cause mild stomach irritation the plant is not considered highly toxic.

True or False?  The plant was brought to the U.S. in 1915 by a shopkeeper as a gift for parents who brought their children to breakfast with Santa.

False. Robert Pointset, a botanist, physician and first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico is credited with bringing the plant to the U.S. in 1848, when they were introduced at the Philadelphia Flower Show.

True or False? For longest enjoyment, select plants with tight oval bead-shaped structures, which are the actual flowers that surround the colored leaves or bracts.

True. The colored bracts, or modified leaves (commonly, but incorrectly referred to as the flower) will start to fade when the center cyathia  (flower) open and release pollen. Look for tight, spikey bead-shaped buds when selecting plants.

True or False? The Aztecs used the colorful parts of the Poinsettia to make a reddish-purple dye for clothing and believed the sap cured fevers.

True. Poinsettias were used for practical and ethnobotanical uses in ancient cultures, including coloring cloth and treating fevers.

True or False:  National Poinsettia day is October 1st, the day that plants should start receiving 12-14 hours of complete darkness in order to rebloom. 

Partially true. October 1st is the date to start giving your Poinsettia half days of complete darkness, called photoperiodism, to trigger reblooming.  But if you want to celebrate Poinsettia day (and who doesn’t?)  it is December 12th, the day Robert Poinsett died in 1851.

True or False: Poinsettias come in over 100 natural colors. 

True. Local garden centers have lots of red, pink, cream and coral varieties along with some sassy lime green, orangey-yellow cultivars and splotchy multi-colored bracts.  Mother Nature has no hand in producing the Bronco blue and sparkly grape colored varieties – these are sprayed and glittered.  There’s a poinsettia for every taste!

True or False: Allow a Poinsettia in bloom to dry out completely before watering.  

False. Poinsettias can be divas — water when soil surface is just dry to the touch so check daily, especially if the plant is in a small pot.  Leaves will droop and yellow if the plant gets too dry. Don’t let the plant sit in water and keep it away from cold and drafts. Ideal temperature is between 65-70 degrees and there is no need to fertilize when in bloom.

Which is the correct pronunciation Poin-set-ah  or Poin-set-ee-ah?

Either way is correct!

Check back next month for tips on coaxing your poinsettia to bloom next year. It’s a good challenge for indoor plant collectors.

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener
Photo courtesy of Pixabay,  a source for royalty free photography

 

CSU Onion Trial is Food Pantry Windfall

Image provided by Cindy Schoepp, Calvary Chapel Food Pantry

Hundreds of pounds of field-fresh onions made it to Brighton’s Calvary Chapel Food Pantry through a combination of opportunity, targeted schmoozing and good timing.

The onion donation came by way of CSU Extension’s Northern Colorado Onion Variety Trial in Adams County.

The onion trial helps farmers find the best onion varieties to plant and grow in Northern Colorado. Seed producers provide their onion seeds for the trial and Sakata Farms hosts the trials by donating space in its fields and caring for the onions.

The trial program started in the mid-1970s, according to Eric Hammond, CSU Extension Agent in Adams County. The onion varieties are evaluated for their pest resistance, yield and storage ability. This year’s trial included 39 different onion cultivars.

The annual research update meeting in September provided the opportunity for the onion donation. Linda Young, executive director of Brighton Shares the Harvest, attended the meeting to learn more about the onion trial and those involved in the research.

She said Thad Gourd presented a program about the trial’s onion seeds and explained how they used a 3-D printer to improve the efficiency of an old onion planter to space and plant the seeds.

Before the program adjourned to the field tour of the research plots, Linda cornered Eric to find out what happens to the onions after the trial is completed.

“I mentioned that Brighton Shares the Harvest would be very interested in having any onions they didn’t need,” she said.

Eric was unsure there would be onions to donate, but he surprised her in early October with an offer of several hundred pounds of onions. The only catch — they had to be moved quickly, by October 11.

Linda immediately called Cindy Schoepp, director at the Calvary Chapel Food Pantry, for an ASAP onion pick up. The onions were gathered and ready for the October 14 pantry distribution.

“The timing was perfect, as the pantry is only open twice a month,” Linda said.

Brighton Shares the Harvest is a nonprofit organization that works year-round to make sure “Everybody has access to affordable, fresh, healthy, locally grown food.”

In addition to accepting donations of fresh produce, the organization makes it easy to donate money through its affiliations with Botanical Interests seed orders and King Soopers Community Rewards Program.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

No More Buds? Turn to Earbuds.

By this time in the year, I’m at the point of good riddance! with the weeds and careful tending (shout out to this cold spell for sealing the deal). Pretty much everything is done and put to bed. I then spend the next two weeks really dialing into my houseplant game before I get bored and start Spring dreaming. My Fall break from the garden is short-lived so I start listening to old episodes of now-defunct podcast series and dream with new ones.  Here are a few of my favs:

Gardenerd Tip of The Week

Gardenerd.com is the ultimate resource for garden nerds. We provide organic gardening information whenever you need it, helping you turn land, public space, and containers into a more satisfying and productive garden that is capable of producing better-tasting and healthier food.

https://gardenerd.com/

My thoughts: The host lives in LA, so this one is great for winter listening as we get chillier, I love hearing about the warmth of Southern California and what’s coming into season. Interviews with other experts and educators in the horticulture field discussing plants, but also cultivating grains, discussing bees, and seeds. Each episode ends with the guest’s own tips, many of which are news to me and have been incorporated into my own practices. 

On the Ledge

I’m Jane Perrone, and I’ve been growing houseplants since I was a child, caring for cacti in my bedroom and growing a grapefruit from seed; filling a fishtank full of fittonias and bringing African violets back from the dead.

https://www.janeperrone.com/on-the-ledge

Houseplants, if new to the podcast start here for an overview, and guidance.

Jane is a freelance journalist and presenter on gardening topics. Her podcast has a ton of tips for beginners, and more advanced info for longtime houseplant lovers, as well as interviews with other plant experts. The website is also useful to explore the content of an episode if you aren’t able to listen. I could spend an entire morning traveling in and out of the archives. 

My thoughts: As the growing season comes to a close, my indoors watering schedule starts wobbling between what the plants need and my summer habits of watering too many times per week–welcome back,  fungus gnats! Here’s an entire episode on them

Plant Daddy Podcast

We aim to create a listener community around houseplants, to learn things, teach things, share conversations with experts, professionals in the horticulture industry, and amateur hobbyists like ourselves. We also want to bring the conversation beyond plants, since anybody with leaf babies has a multitude of intersectional identities. We, ourselves, are a couple gay guys living in Seattle, Washington, with a passion for gardening and houseplants. A lot of our friends are the same, though each of us has a different connection, interest, and set of skills in this hobby, demonstrating a small amount of the diversity we want to highlight among plant enthusiasts.

https://plantdaddypodcast.com/

My thoughts: Plants are visual, podcasts are auditory- episodic overviews with links to viewable content available on their website. Are you also seeing Staghorn Ferns everywhere? They have an entire episode (photos included!) on the fern and how to properly mount it for that vegan taxiderm look. Matthew and Stephen are self-identified hobbyists with a passion for plants all the way down to the Latin–it’s impressive.

Epic Gardening

The Epic Gardening podcast…where your gardening questions are answered daily! The goal of this podcast is to give you a little boost of gardening wisdom in under 10 minutes a day. I cover a wide range of topics, from pest prevention, to hydroponics, to plant care guides…as long as it has something to do with gardening, I’ll talk about it on the show!

https://www.epicgardening.com/

My thoughts: The Netflix-episode-when-you-just-don’t-feel-like-a-movie kind of podcast. Addresses the best varietals, composting, soil pH, and troubleshooting some common issues in the garden. With daily episodes archived back to December 2018, there is a quickly digested thought for some of your own curiosities. The website is also a wealth of knowledge. 

Eatweeds Podcast: For People Who Love Plants

Eatweeds: An audio journey through the wonderful wild world of plants. Episodes cover modern and ancient ways wild plants have been used in human culture as food, medicine and utilitarian uses.

http://eatweeds.libsyn.com/

My thoughts: most recent episode (and appropriately timed!)  On edible acorns. My fav topics include foraging and wild yeast fermentation; and when I really start missing the Pacific Northwest, The Wild and Wonderful World of Fungi sends me back to a misty forest wander politely decorated by les champignons. Posting of this pod is sporadic–only 25 episodes since 2014.

You Bet Your Garden

(no longer on air, but archives available)

 

You Bet Your Garden® was a weekly radio show and podcast produced at WHYY through September, 2018. The show’s archive is available online. It was a weekly syndicated radio show, with lots of call-ins. This weekly call-in program offers ‘fiercely organic’ advice to gardeners far and wide.

https://www.wlvt.org/television/you-bet-your-garden/

My thoughts: Host, Mike McGrath, spends much of the show taking calls and troubleshooting, reminiscent of another public radio behemoth with Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers. McGrath incorporates a lifetime of organic gardening tips with humor. McGrath features one tip to find a local “rent a goat place” (no joke) to get goats to eat the most troublesome weeds to a concerned caller considering setting much of her yard on fire.

Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell, the founder of Jewellgarden and Cultivating Place, achieves this mission through her writing, photographs, exhibits about and advocacy for gardens & natural history and through her weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden, on gardens as integral to our natural and cultural literacy.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

My thoughts: sort of like On Being, but for gardening.

A fav episode:

If you aren’t so sure about this podcast thing, and just want a place to start, start here.

Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on its head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/smarty-plants

Meet the Garden Squad’s Katie Dunker

Meet the Garden Squad is a way to get better acquainted with some of our CSU Extension Master Gardener volunteers – and staff members, too.

Meet Katie Dunker

Katie Dunker is the CSU Extension Statewide Coordinator for the Colorado Master Gardener Program. (Photo provided by K. Dunker)

Katie Dunker will always remember the day she became the Colorado Master Gardener Statewide Coordinator. That’s because it happened on April Fool’s Day.

She stepped into the statewide role after serving as CSU Extension’s Master Gardener coordinator in Douglas County. Katie, 37, is an alum of CSU where she received her graduate degree and met her husband Eric. Her undergraduate degree is from Oregon State University.

With experience in higher education administration and a background in public health, she hit the ground running in her new position. “A lot of my job is connecting the dots between the counties and the state,” she said.

She spends her days juggling tasks such as helping a new Master Gardener coordinator get settled in, updating Master Gardeners on the Emerald Ash Borer’s movements, coordinating continuing education programs using Zoom software, updating the statewide website and promoting the CMG program at every opportunity.

In this Q&A, Katie shares advice for apprentices, her biggest gardening fail and what she hopes for Colorado Master Gardeners in the future:

What do you enjoy most about your job?

“I really love my job and feel honored to serve programs across the state. The best part is learning about the awesome work that’s going on in counties and sharing those with a statewide audience.

One of the most exciting programs is in Garfield County where the local CSU Extension agent, Abi Saeed, received a grant to do a summer gardening series at a local apartment complex. Instead of having people come to the program, she brought the bilingual program to a diverse, multigenerational group of 300 participants on Friday nights. The coolest thing is they took a nonfunctioning swimming pool and turned it into a community garden that became the centerpiece for the apartment complex.”

What’s your philosophy or approach to your work?

“I keep in mind that relationships are key. I remember one of my professors at Oregon State saying, relationships are people who care, talking about things that matter.

What advice would you give to an apprentice Master Gardener?

“Apprentices are drinking by a fire hose. There’s a lot of information to take in that first year so I’d say ‘jump in with both feet’. You don’t have to be an expert if you understand the process for using horticulture to empower people and connect them to good information.”

What’s the biggest gardening fail you’ve had?

“When we lived in Highlands Ranch and had a newly landscaped house, I was just starting to get into gardening. I had come from Oregon, so I planted hydrangeas in the flower box in front of the house. I’d trim them way back every winter and then mulch them. They had great foliage, but they never bloomed. I’d have done it differently had I known what I know now. I still don’t know what color those flowers were.”

Where do you get your energy?

“I’m really an internally motivated and driven person. I’m motivated by making sure to move CSU Extension to be more accessible, the Master Gardener program specifically. I want us to be more nimble, more progressive and to get our name out there more. It makes me sad when people haven’t heard about Master Gardeners – we’ve been around 40 years! We don’t want to be a best kept secret.”

What’s your favorite way to have fun?

“I love being outside and I love being with my kids and family, so anytime I can combine those two is the best, like skiing or hiking. We have two elementary-age boys and a one-year-old girl.”

How do your kids like to spend time with you?

“Playing the card game Skip-Bo; going to the neighborhood ice cream shop, and watching football on TV.”

Are you an early bird or a night owl?

“An early bird for sure. I love to get up between 5:00 and 6:00 to see the sunrise. I love the quiet mornings while the kids are asleep, have a cup of coffee and maybe wander around in the garden.”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Whether it’s work life or personal life, whatever you’re going through it’s just a season – good or bad.”

What do you envision for Colorado Master Gardeners in the future?

“I would love to see the Colorado Master Gardener program as a really fun group, willing to put ourselves out there for diverse community groups, from nursing  homes to office buildings, and partnering with different organizations so we’re more in the fabric of a community rather than just a resource for a community. When I picture Colorado Master Gardeners as a person, I see a gritty gardener who loves people and plants.”

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

The Weather Outside is About to Change

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October is the month the garden takes its final breath, the first frost arrives (this week!) and pumpkin-everything surrounds us. We’ll still have some beautiful fall days, but there’s no denying it, the growing season is coming to a close. So with that in mind, here’s a round up of helpful information for the days, weeks and months ahead.

  • Sometimes working less is working smarter – find tips for putting the garden to bed here and here.
  • Why am I always late scheduling this? Instructions for winterizing sprinkler systems here. (It’s helpful to read even if you leave this task to others.)
  • Have your houseplants been living outdoors? With temperatures about to plunge, it’s time that vacation comes to an end. Some good reminders on how to help them transition to lower light can be found here. 
  • My Chanticleer Pear tree (Pyrus calleryana ) is soooo prone to storm damage in both the fall and the spring – this CSU PlantTalk article provides excellent information on snow-load damage and pruning of herbaceous plants.
  • If you have upright junipers, you know they are also prone to winter splitting. Here are some excellent tips on preventing structural damage, including a creative use for Christmas lights.
  • And finally, be mindful of the winter moisture levels. “Your Yard is Thirsty” offers advice on winter watering of a variety of plants.

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Image by Anne Hughes, a Denver County Master Gardener