Meet the DMG Garden Squad

Meet the DMG Garden Squad is a new blog feature and a way to get better acquainted with some of our dedicated volunteers.

Jan Appelbaum has volunteered with CSU Extension Master Gardeners since 2004.

Meet Jan Appelbaum

Most Master Gardeners know the value of making their own compost. But Jan Appelbaum discovered there’s more to compost than a good soil amendment.

“My best success last year grew out of the compost bin. There were three or four tomato varieties that grew out of the compost, and they were prolific.” She harvested hundreds of tomatoes from tomato seeds that decided to sprout and grow on their own.

Jan’s tomatoes planted themselves in the compost bin. (Photos by Jan Appelbaum)

Jan joined the CSU Extension Colorado Master Gardener (CMG) program in 2004, after retiring from a 30-year teaching career in Douglas County. She thought the program would be a good way to provide some structured activity to fill her time.

When she started, the Denver Master Gardeners’ office was located downtown in the Wellington Webb Building. Those were the “good old days” when the pace was quite a bit slower.

“We have the ability to get information faster now, almost instantaneously, and we reach more people now,” Jan said. “But sometimes slow is better, too.”

One of her favorite volunteer activities is interviewing Master Gardener apprentices because there are many different ages, levels of enthusiasm for gardening and levels of expertise. “It’s fun and interesting to hear why people want to be trained to be a master gardener,” she said.

Jan also volunteers as part of the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) to track precipitation in all 50 states, Canada and the Bahamas. As a CoCoRaHS volunteer, she measures daily precipitation in her yard and keeps track of the results.

She also volunteers at the annual spring plant sale and helps answer questions at the farmer’s market. One of the advantages of volunteering alongside other Denver Master Gardeners is the collaborative spirit. “At the Master Gardener booth, four brains are better than one.”

The farmer’s market is a valuable and sometimes entertaining outreach opportunity. “It’s always fun when people come up to ask a question but have already made up their mind. Or when people from out of town say ‘That’s not how we do it in Michigan.’ But most people appreciate the help we can give.”

Jan grew up in Connecticut where she admits it was easier to garden. She helped in her family’s huge vegetable garden, but had to learn how to garden in a more challenging environment when she moved to Colorado in 1972.

Her advice to new gardeners, and those new to gardening here, is to be patient and learn by doing.

Some of that advice is based on her own early planting efforts. She recalled planting a miniature Japanese maple tree and giving it too much love.

“I thought it needed water because the leaves were curled, and I killed it by overwatering. Eventually I found out they don’t like to have their roots too wet.”

Jan said she’s grateful for the Master Gardener experience because it’s broadened her gardening knowledge. She thinks everyone who gardens should go through the Master Gardener training, too.

“Gardening for me is very therapeutic,” she said. “It helps connect us with the soil and Mother Nature. Having a sense of nature is getting harder and harder to do in the city, but I’m encouraged to see there are more people getting into gardening now.”

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

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Why Leaves Linger

Here we are in mid-January and  most deciduous trees and shrubs (excluding conifers) have shed their leaves. But long after the last frost and through a couple of modest snow storms, there are still trees around the front range with leaves that are stubbornly hanging on, as you can see from the photos I took in my neighborhood last week.

Marcescence is the retention of dried, dead leaves during the winter. Typically, as woody plants prepare to shed their leaves in the fall, cells at the junction of the twig and the leaf petiole (stem) release enzymes and form an abscission layer, which aids in the separation of the leaf. Marcescent leaves do not develop this thin-walled cell layer and therefore, do not drop readily.

Early severe cold weather can cause marcescence as the development of the abscission layer is halted and the leaves do not release. Front range gardeners will recall an extreme case in November 2014 when an exceedingly mild fall was interrupted by a one day temperature plunge from a high of 58 degrees to a low of 16 degrees. The result was subsequent damage and loss of many hardwood plants the following season and beyond.

Some plants are more apt to hold leaves longer, including several oak species, hazelnuts, American lindens and beech trees.  According to Jim Finley of Pennsylvania State University, “Marcescent leaves are often more common with smaller trees or more apparent on lower branches of larger trees, which in forest conditions would be growing beneath taller trees where the reduced sunlight might slow the abscission process.”  Lower leaves are therefore exposed to cooler temperatures, resulting in leaf retention. It should be noted that upper leaves can also exhibit marcescence.

Marcescent leaves eventually drop, either due to wind, snow load or the push of new spring growth. Under normal circumstances, marscence does not damage trees.

References:

“Winter Leaves that Hang On”, Jim Finley, Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Pennsylvania State University.

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Tips For Caring For Your Cut Christmas Tree

If a real Christmas tree is a beloved tradition in your home, you’ll find these tips for its care helpful. Following these research-based findings will help your tree stay fresh and aromatic through the season. Some may surprise you.

First and foremost, check the water level daily. The ideal stand will hold at least a quart of water per inch of the stem’s diameter. A gallon capacity stand is generally sufficient. Be sure the cut end of the trunk is always submerged in water.  

Clean, plain water is best; water temperature will not effect absorption. Additives such as aspirin, floral preservatives, water-holding gels, sugar, bleach and soda are not beneficial and some can even retard freshness.

Anti-transpirants or wilt-reducing products have also not been found to significantly reduce moisture loss. 

Take care when placing your tree in the stand. The outer layer of the trunk is important to water absorption, so avoid “shaving”  or scarring the bark to make it fit into the stand.  (I’ve been guilty of this!) 

Cooler temperatures will help the tree stay fresh. Lowering the thermostat and placing the tree out of direct sunlight is recommended.

A well-cared for cut tree should remain fresh for three to four weeks. Always monitor your tree for excessively dry needles, a sure sign that the tree should be discarded.

At the end of the season many communities offer free tree recycling programs. Denver residents can find information on the 2019 Treecycle program here.

Reference:  “Caring for Your Cut Christmas Tree” Rick Bates, Department of Horticulture, Pennsylvania State University.

 Image: Garreth Broesche, Unsplash.com

Written by: Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

How Vanilla Gets to Your Kitchen

Will you be doing holiday baking this season? If so, chances are your recipes will include vanilla, an often overlooked kitchen staple, with a name that can be synonymous with bland or uninteresting.  But how vanilla gets to our pantry shelves is really quite a feat, in fact, it is anything but vanilla.

Pure vanilla extract is derived from the orchid Vanilla planifolia, a rambling, vigorous vine which grows on tree trunks, can reach 75′ and is native to Mexico and Central America. The plant’s fragrant, yellow to green flowers bloom for exactly one day and must be pollinated while in full bloom in order to produce a vanilla bean. Adding to the pollination complexity, in the wild, each flower has less than a 1% chance of being visited by the plant-specific pollinator, the stingless bee of the genus Melapona. Given these odds, commercial vanilla producers employ a hand pollination technique. Manual pollination was first attempted in the 1840’s by a clever twelve year old boy who worked in vanilla fields on the island of Réunion, east of Madagascar. Hundreds of years later, essentially the same labor-intensive process is still used at commercial plantations.

The flowers are self fertile – containing both male and female parts. The pollination process involves moving pollen from the flower’s anther to the stigma with a toothpick or finger. If successful, in 5-9 months the flower will produce a green bean-like fruit which will be picked and fermented before becoming the dark brown, prized vanilla pod. Once the pods are dried, they are steeped in an alcohol and water mixture to create the extract we bake with and enjoy as an aromatic in perfumes and household products. This video shows the pollination process – not a job for unsteady hands! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOAi2WeLsCs

A few more vanilla facts:

  • The hand pollination process accounts for 40% of the production cost of vanilla, which is why vanilla is so pricey.
  • The FDA has strict standards for vanilla production.  A gallon of extract must contain more than 13 ounces of ground vanilla beans and have at least 35% alcohol.
  • Since the vanilla plant is not a legume, the” beans”  are not beans at all. They are actually pods. 
  • Spiders don’t like vanilla, so the pods can be used to keep these pests away.
  • Vanillin is an essential compound in vanilla. Surprisingly, it is also found in potatoes.
  • Artificial vanilla is created in a laboratory with by-products of the paper industry. That sure doesn’t sound tasty!

Wishing you a happy holiday season, filled with joy, laughter and new found respect for that humble bottle of vanilla!

Credits:

Photos: Pixabay.com

University of Wisconsin Master Gardener Program, Vanilla planifolia

UW Lax.edu, Vanillaplanifolia

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

Help Your Christmas Cactus Bloom This Year

cropped-cropped-dscn05311.jpgWe’re sharing this post from 2016 again as a reminder that dark, cooler autumn nights are needed for Christmas Cactus to produce glorious blooms at the holidays. Given the right conditions now, you’ll enjoy beautiful flowers before too long. Read on for all the details!

Let me start by saying I’ve killed my share of houseplants, but one that has lived for close to three decades is the Zygocactus. Commercially, growers sell two slightly different plants as Zygocactus: the Thanksgiving cactus which has pointy edged branch segments and blooms around turkey time and the Christmas cactus which has rounded segments and blooms for its namesake. Care for the plants is essentially the same. Mine, shown above, is the Thanksgiving variety, Schlumbergera truncate.  Through periods of  neglect, inconsistent feeding and infrequent (twice maybe?) repotting, this plant keeps blooming prolifically year after year. I’ve rooted cuttings several times as gifts, but curiously, the offspring have rarely flowered in their new homes, where I might add, they get more TLC than they would living with me. This begs the question, what does this plant need to thrive and re-bloom? Here are the best tips from the experts and a few of my own observations.

  • It likes a bright, but not sunny location with temperatures that do not drop below 60 degrees.  Mine moves from indoors to an east facing screened porch from Memorial Day till Labor Day, or longer if the fall is mild like it was this year.
  •  It is a cactus which likes humidity. Unlike most cactus which prefer dry air, it hails from the tropical rainforests of South America and likes moist air. Sitting the plant on a pebble tray with water that does not touch the bottom of the pot can help, or living in a kitchen or bathroom would be ideal.
  •  It wants good drainage. If repotting, use standard, well draining potting soil. Water when it is dry just below the soil line, about once a week. I’ve  found  it amazingly forgiving if  when I forget to water. Over-watering will cause branches to rot, so more is not always better.
  • Spring and Summer are its active growth times. Prune when it is done blooming or in early summer to promote side branching. Cuttings can easily be rooted in water or soil. Adding houseplant food during the growth period helps. I have cut back branches to about six inches in the spring and the plant tripled in size by the end of the summer.
  • Here’s the key! It needs longer autumn nights to rebloom. Photoperiodism is a plant’s reaction to periods of light, similar to our circadian rhythm. Starting in mid to late September, the Zygocactus needs between nine and twelve hours of uninterrupted darkness each day in order to flower. Thanksgiving cactus take about six weeks of longer nights to sprout buds, Christmas cactus need about eight to twelve weeks.  This longer “sleep” period is the trickiest part of the reblooming process and why the porch, which is generally dark at night, works so well. Other options are to locate the plant in a similarly lit room, or  early each evening, cover it with a box or put it in a closet. Complete darkness insures maximum blooms. From experience, I’ve found that the occasional interruption of darkness reduces blooms, but will not thwart all flowers.
  • Stop the longer night process when buds emerge. The plant is now ready to flower. At this time, reduce watering slightly to promote brighter flower color.
  • Watch for bud drop. This could indicate you’ve reduced water too much. If the plant is new to you, it also could be reacting to a change in environment. Drafts or temperatures below 60 degrees may also be the culprit. I often see shriveled tiny buds at the end of the blooming cycle, as though the plant is  exhausted from the work it takes to flower for weeks on end. I found no science to support this notion, just my take on it!

Zygocactus are graceful, pretty plants, with or without blooms. Their showy, colorful holiday flowers are a beautiful treat at the end of the year. With a little extra care in the fall, they will regale you with splendid  holiday color.

Related posts:

Keeping the Ho Ho Ho in Holiday Plants

A Year in the Life of an Amaryllis

Text and Photo by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Tree of Heaven: Don’t Let the Name Fool You

Google Free ImageAilanthus altissima or Tree of Heaven, is a notorious, fast growing, invasive plant which left unchecked can quickly become a large shrub or substantial tree. An urban nuisance, you’ve likely seen it jumping out of cracks in sidewalks, pushing through established shrubs and lining alleys where little else will flourish. I recently found a seedling growing in the corner of my pebble-lined basement window well, a testament to its ability to survive in poor soil with little moisture.  It will grow most anywhere except very dense shade and swamps and is capable of choking out desirable plants, forming  thickets and damaging sewer lines or building foundations. The vigorous lateral root system sends up numerous suckers and the plant will also easily establish by seed. Remember the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? The title’s tree is Tree of Heaven – aptly used as a metaphor for determination and survival.

In the late 1700’s the tree was brought to this country from China and was heralded for its rapid growth. According to the U.S. Forestry Service, a young specimen can grow 24′ in the first four years and a mature tree can easily reach 50’ or more and produce over 300,000 seeds annually.

Ailanthus altissima has several distinguishing characteristics detailed in this Colorado State University publication. Sometimes mistaken for Sumac, Tree of Heaven leaves are pinnately compound (made up of several elongated leaflets) with a glandular notched base and smooth edge. The smooth leaflet margins differentiate the plant from Sumac, which has a jagged leaf margin. When Tree of Heaven foliage is crushed it has a foul odor resembling rancid peanut butter, hence another common name, Stink Tree. Clusters of yellow-green flowers emerge in spring; later in the season, female plants produce tan to reddish, single-winged samaras or seed pods. Large triangular leaf scars are visible on the twigs and are another defining characteristic of this notorious plant.

To eliminate Tree of Heaven, vigilantly pull small seedlings by hand.  If the plant is well established, cutting it down will trigger the root system to produce an army of suckers, which in short order can result in a small colony. An effective treatment is to make numerous slashes on the trunk or drill holes into the bark and immediately apply a full strength herbicide containing Triclopyr on the openings. Waiting even longer than 30 seconds to apply the chemical renders the treatment ineffective, as the plant quickly seals the wound in the cambium layer and prevents the herbicide from reaching the root system. It can take multiple applications to kill a well established plant. As always, follow all instructions for the safe use of chemicals. Simply digging mature suckers up without the use of herbicide may be effective over time, but the bossy root system is likely to make this a frustrating and counterproductive exercise.

Additional Resources:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5410131.pdf

https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/treeheaven.shtml

https://articles.extension.org/pages/62664/ailanthus-altissima-tree-of-heaven

https://www.extension.iastate.edu/forestry/iowa_trees/trees/tree_of_heaven.html

Photo Credits:

Image 1 (seedling): Google Free Image

Image 2 (tree):  Annemarie Smith, ODNR Division of Forestry, Bugwood.org

Image 3 (flower): Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Image 4 (tree scar): Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Written by:

Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

Species Tulips

beautiful bloom blooming blossom

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Colorful hybrid tulips are an iconic symbol of spring. Planted in the fall, they’ll light up next year’s landscape with their tall stems and cup shaped blooms. In subsequent years, they’re likely to decline – sending up fewer blooms, weak foliage and sometimes not bursting through the soil at all. Allowing the foliage to senesce (turn yellow, limp and easy to pull up) after the flowers fade does help supply nutrients to the bulb for the following year, but the popular tulip bulb generally does not bloom for more than a year or two. In fact, tulips in public gardens are often treated as annuals and replanted each year.

tulipasaxatilis_drystonegarden

Tulipa saxatillis   Photo courtesy of Drystonegarden.com

An alternative to the common, hybridized “Holland” tulip are  species or botanical tulips. They are native to Central Asia and other Steppe regions, areas that are climatically similar to Colorado. This group of tulips are shorter (6-12 inches tall), will naturalize, or spread each year by self-sown seeds or stolons and some varieties will send out multiple stems. Good drainage and a sunny location with room for the plants to expand are ideal. The bulbs also do well in gravelly soil and are used successfully in rock gardens.

species tulip_google

Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ Photo courtesy of Google Free Images

Mid September to late October is an ideal time to plant, setting the bulbs in clumps or drifts and burying 4 inches deep or as recommended for the specific cultivar. Colors range from delicate pastels to vibrant reds and pinks, blooms can be bi-colored and foliage is often grey-green or stippled. Since the foliage is smaller and more compact, the die-back is less unappealing.

 

20180918_135845

Tulipa ‘Lilac Wonder’ Photo by Linda McDonnell

Species tulips can be found online and at independent nurseries, where they are sold in pre-packaged bags and found near other small bulbs such as crocus and muscari.

While I love the flashy hybrid tulip, I’m adding reliable, graceful species tulips to my garden this year too, how bout you?

 

 

 

Resources:

CSU Fact Sheet 7.410: Fall Planted Bulbs and Corms
University of Wyoming: Bulbs Well Adapted to Our Inhospitable Climate,

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

2019 Colorado Master Gardener/Colorado Gardener Applications Now Being Accepted

We are now taking applications for the 2019 Colorado Master Gardener volunteer class. We are also recruiting Colorado Gardener Certificate students who take the classes without volunteering. The application deadline is Friday, October 19th, 2018 and weekly Wednesday classes run from January 23 through April 10, 2019 from 9:00am-4:00pm. Classes will be held at Denver Botanic Gardens and Jefferson County Fairgrounds. For more information about the program, please visit our website: http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/about.shtml

If you are interested, please call 720-913-5272 or email merrill.kingsbury@denvergov.org for an application.

If you live outside of Denver, please see this link for the CO Master Gardener Program in your county: http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/ask-cmg.shtml

 

‘Sun Gold’ Tomatoes Rise to Top at Tasting

Colorado Master Gardeners from Denver Extension enjoyed sampling and voting for their favorite home-grown tomatoes during the annual picnic. (Photo by Merrill Kingsbury)

Just like location, location, location is the slogan for real estate, ‘Sun Gold’, ‘Sun Gold’, ‘Sun Gold’ was the mantra at the annual Colorado Master Gardener summer picnic on August 25.

‘Sun Gold’ received the most votes and special recognition during the picnic’s tomato tasting.

Three CMGs from the Denver Extension brought their prized ‘Sun Golds’ to the tasting party: Linda McDonnell, John Ashworth and Barb Pinter.

‘Sun Golds’ are a perennial winner at tomato tasting contests because of their high sugar content and exceptional flavor. The bright orange fruits are also extremely prolific, growing bunches of sweet tomatoes on long vines throughout summer.

Other favorite tomatoes at the tasting included Dianne Rainville’s ‘Green Zebra’. One taster singled out this variety for its “nice acidity and beauty.”

Julie Householder and her husband David brought samples of their ‘Goliath’ tomatoes. These tomatoes were extra-special because the plant came from the Master Gardener Plant Sale in May. They also offered ‘Roma’ and ‘Red Siberian’ varieties for sampling.

CMGs John Ashworth and Renata Hahn each brought their favorite tomatoes to the tomato tasting. (Photo by Merrill Kingsbury)

Renata Hahn’s ‘Oh Happy Day’ tomatoes are a beefsteak type hybrid tomato that must get its name for the beautiful ruby-red tomatoes that are bred to be disease resistant.

Other tomatoes sliced and diced for the tasting included ‘Celebrity’, ‘Carbon Purple’, and two different ‘Tommy Toe’ heirloom cherry tomatoes.

The crowd of picnickers numbered 70 and included CMG volunteers and their families. Merrill Kingsbury, Master Gardener Program Assistant, and her husband hosted the annual social event to celebrate another successful gardening season.

The tomato tasting is a picnic bonus. It give gardeners an opportunity to compare different tomatoes for their future plantings. ‘Sun Gold’ could very well be at the top of many must-grow lists for next season.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Need Your Favorite Recipes, Please

Face made of vegetablesWhat’s your favorite way to use the bounty from your vegetable garden?

Whether you’re a gardener who likes to cook or a cook who likes to garden, now’s the thyme to get busy in the kitchen.

August is when the fresh herbs, fruits and vegetables we planted in late spring start to come on strong.

Tomatoes and peppers and zucchini – oh my!

A vegetable garden is a lot of work, and we should celebrate the harvest as long as it lasts. I treat every home-grown tomato like a precious gem. Every eggplant gets the star treatment. Perfect peppers are sliced, diced, fried or dried.

One of my favorite simple salads is to cut thick slices of tomato, sprinkle them with ribbons of fresh basil and then drizzle with olive oil. I could also eat tomato, cucumber and cheese sandwiches (almost) every day. Squash that’s stuffed and baked is also a keeper.

But, like other foodie gardeners, I’m always on the lookout for creative recipe ideas. I know I’m not the only who wants fresh recipes that are quick, tasty and help make sure no garden-grown goodies go to waste.

How do you put your garden-fresh produce to use? Please share your favorite ways to serve up your homegrown treasures for appetizers, snacks, soups, salads, pasta , pickles, and anything else you like to eat. Ways to preserve the harvest count, too.

Use the “comments” section to add your own recipes and ideas or add a link to recipes you’d recommend to other vegetable growers.

Thank you!

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener