Reimagining a Denver Hell Strip

 

A typical hell strip in “Any Town USA”

The hell strip (more politely called a tree lawn) is that pesky rectangular area between the street and the sidewalk. It’s a challenging spot – surrounded by concrete surfaces which make it super hot in the summer and subject to harsh elements in the winter.  Apprentice Denver County Master Gardeners (CMG’s) Elizabeth and Daniel Neufeld challenged themselves to redesign their hell strip by working with, not against the conditions at hand. Their new strip garden incorporates xeric native plants in a creative design which complements their early 1900’s Mayfair bungalow. Here’s a step-by-step description of the project in Elizabeth’s own words.

Site Description and Preparation
The 8.5’ by 16’ site had been a weedy portion of our hell strip. This section of our lawn was never irrigated and though we used a manual sprinkler on it for years, it never really thrived. Weeds from an adjacent bed also crept in and began to take over our lawn.

In June 2017 – after talking to CMG’s at East High’s Farmers Market – we put down 5 mil black plastic over the entire area to solarize the soil and kill the weeds. In March of this year, we removed the plastic and started to work on the soil.

The top several inches of soil was relatively good. Below that, though, was hard packed clay. Based upon our classwork to become CMG’s, and discussions with other CMG’s, we knew that we wanted to create a Native, drought resistant, garden. In order to have the appropriate depth of 2”-3” of pea gravel on top, we needed to dig out the clay. MUCH harder than we anticipated.

First I took every trash can we owned (about 5), and another 3 from a neighbor, and filled them up with just the first 4-5 inches of the topsoil. Then what to do with the clay below?  You can’t put it into the regular trash bins, nor into the city’s green compost bins as  they do not accept soil, primarily because of its weight. I secretly thought I could add just small amounts of dirt weekly and they wouldn’t know the difference. Yet this wasn’t right, and would take forever. We went online and called several places about renting a dumpster, yet the smallest dumpster we could find was going to cost $500, and we’d need to get a permit from the city to place it on the street. We needed another plan.

Perhaps you’ve seen smaller, heavy plastic canvas bags in people’s front yards as they do small remodeling jobs on their homes. These “bagsters” can be bought at a big-box store, and they hold up to 3300 pounds. Once filled, Waste Management will come and collect them for a fee. So we purchased one of these, set it up on our sidewalk next to the hell strip, and completely filled it with about 4” of the clay subsoil. It was truly a Herculean task, and it weighed over a ton, literally.

After the Waste Management dump truck removed the bagster and all its contents, we then put back all of the topsoil we had previously removed. Another day of heavy lifting.

Plant Selection
What to choose, what to choose?! Thank goodness for the CSU Extension fact sheets on Xeriscaping, Low Water gardening, and Native Plants. We also had Pretty Tough Plants, a book by the experts at Plant Select. We  spent a fair amount of time at the Jefferson County Extension office xeric garden, and the Denver Botanic Gardens, and took pictures of plants we liked. We spent a huge amount of time debating which and how many plants to include. The mix and quantities of plants we decided on follow. Click images for plant names.

  • Berlandia lyrate,“Chocolate Flower” (4)
  • Agastache, “Sonoran” (2) and “Coronado” hyssop (1)
  • Delosperma, “Firespinner” and “Red Mountain Flame” iceplants (4)
  • Eriogonum umbellatum, “Kannah Creek” buckwheat (2)
  • Schizachyrium scoparian, “Little Bluestem” (3)
  • Tanacetum densum, “Partridge Feather”  (3)
  • Prunus bessyi, “Pawnee Buttes” Sand Cherry (3)
  • Amorpha fructosa, False Indigo Lead Plant (1)  not shown
  • Miscanthus sinesis  (1) not shown

Design

design
In talking with a fellow CMG apprentice, Brenda Reum – who has her own landscape firm – we decided to put a false arroyo diagonally through the rectangular site. We also wanted a few larger accent rocks, and some medium size rock around the edges. We went to a local sand and gravel company and selected some larger rocks, and got several 5-gallon buckets of mid-size rock. During this time period (late April/early May), we also went camping in Western Colorado for a week. While driving on a dirt road along the Delores River, we came upon a pile of rocks – and collected a few dozen we liked and brought them home!

After creating an outline of the arrangement of the arroyo and the planting on paper, we commenced planting. Like many a good idea, the execution was more time-consuming than anticipated.

Once the planting was complete, we used an online calculator to estimate the amount of pea gravel needed. To have 3” of pea gravel on the site as large as ours, we would need 1 ton of rock. We put a large tarp on the street adjacent to the garden and the delivery truck dumped it on top. We spent hours shoveling the gravel over the dirt, then carefully placed our ‘trophy’ rocks through the arroyo and around the edges. Some clusters of rock are near some of the plants, and we placed a piece of weathered cedar (also found during the camping trip) and a piece of ‘rust art’ in the bed.

Now
20180622_173305The bed has been in for about 6 weeks, and it’s looking great and seems to be happy. We initially watered the plants every 2-3 days for the first 3 weeks, and have now cut back to once weekly. The ice plants and partridge feather are already spreading out, the chocolate flower and hyssop have been blooming. The little bluestem has yet to fully take off, but those plants were the smallest of all when we purchased them. We left plenty of space for the eventual growth and spreading of these plants, and look forward to their ultimate size and height.

Time and Cost of Materials
It is hard to calculate the total amount of time we spent — yet it was easily 3 times more than we thought it was going to be. It was approximately 100 – 150 hours of our own labor.

We found the plants at several independent garden centers as the big box centers did not have any of these. And because of this, the cost was more than we had anticipated, too. We spent approximately $400-$450 on 23 plants.

We spent $30 on purchasing the ‘bagster’, and $120 to have it carted away. We spent $85 on the pea gravel (including delivery), and another $40 on the larger rocks we purchased. All totaled, we spent $675-$725 on the new Native garden.  We are so pleased with the results and hope to expand our collection of native plants in other parts of our garden.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your experience! If you have a question or comment for Elizabeth, she’ll respond in the comment section.

Photo Credits: Plants: Plant Select.org,  Street Image: Bing Free Images, Garden diagram and completed garden: Elizabeth Neufeld

Posted by Elizabeth Neufeld and Linda McDonnell

 

 

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Espalier Tree: An Experiment

Espaliers are a beautiful addition for: a kitchen garden wall, the side of a house, plopping under window, a privacy screen or employed as yard zone divider. Espaliers take up very little space and are easily accessible for people with limited mobility, and also a fun height for children to harvest. Moreover, espalier fruit trees have surprisingly bountiful fruit production. And interestingly espaliers often live longer than more naturally grown trees/vines, including some very old specimens. These plants have the advantages of sunlight that reaches all the branches, less breakage, and importantly if planted against a wall they have the added protection against a late frost, and so potentially retain more blossoms.

 

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Photo Credit: Le Potager Garden DBG

When we first moved into our house there was a wall in a small garden that I felt needed a pear espalier. I didn’t feel brave enough (or patient probably) to start a bare-root dwarf fruit tree and establish the training from scratch. So a couple of years ticked by as I waited to win the lottery for a nursery grown one (a four tier espalier can cost over a thousand dollars). The more affordable two tier plants, that are more commonly sold, are perfect for planting under a window, but not for a taller height. To add to this, most of the nursery grafted espaliers have a different variety of fruit on each branch, which although theoretically sounds exciting can actually present aesthetic and practical issues, and not surprisingly the rootstock can dominate in time too.

My experiment was – could I take a mature sapling and train it into an espalier. I am writing this blog as I did not find the information I needed on the internet, and so I plunged ahead into the unknown and broke pretty much every gardening rule. This is an experiment that may or may not succeed.  Any input will be gratefully received! The ideas below are not endorsed by any educated gardener.

I did follow one cardinal rule: “Right Plant- Right Place”. I had my heart set on a pear tree.  But at the nursery I chose the European Stanley Plum as the “right plant”.  It is a hardy choice for Denver, and a larger tree (not a dwarf fruit- the regular espalier choice) should be alright for my wall? Moreover, this sapling had the right growth pattern, as it was fairly two dimensional and symmetrical.  This young tree also sported the required flexible branches for training. Then for the location: the eastern wall, which is bathed in sunlight but not unrelating heat was I felt this “right place”.  I followed correct planting rules! CMG How to Plant a Tree Continue reading

Celebrate the Unsung Insect Heroes During Pollinator Week

It’s Pollinator Week 2018, a time to show some garden love to the bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators that provide services essential to our food supply.

This year, let’s put the emphasis on other insect pollinators.

It’s easy to admire beautiful butterflies sailing effortlessly from flower to flower. We all know how important it is to provide nectar and pollen for native bees. But how many gardeners really, truly appreciate flies? How about other non-bee insects, like moths, wasps and beetles?

These less lovable insects are what some researchers refer to as the “unsung heroes of the pollination world.”

Bees certainly get the most notice for their important work, but they couldn’t do all the pollinating on their own. They need help from other less attractive insects.

In a revealing research study, one Washington State University doctoral student discovered that flies are an important pollinator, too. During her research, Rachel Olsson found that about a third of the insects visiting farm crops were syrphid flies, also known as hover flies.

These flies mimic the behavior of bees, help with pollination and do a bit more. In their juvenile stage, syrphid flies help control aphids, too.

Rachel’s research was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. She spent several years studying whether non-bee insects contribute to sustainable crop pollination on a network of 24 organic farms in Western Washington.

During her study, she learned pollinators were drawn to one type of crop over another. She had hoped to observe bee and non-bee insects interacting in a way that could improve pollination efficiency.

Still, these overlooked pollinators provide a valuable service and need to be part of conservation efforts, too. That’s why Rachel thinks the results of her research are applicable to Colorado gardeners. It’s important to understand and protect all pollinators, especially the underdogs of the insect world.

An especially useful guide is a booklet Rachel co-authored called, A Citizen Guide to Wild Bees and Floral Visitors in Western Washington. Published by Washington State University Extension, the online guide provides tools for observing and identifying wild bees and other important floral visitors.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Japanese Beetles Make Their 2018 Debut

 

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The Japanese Beetle – pretty to look at but oh so destructive!

June is a glorious month in the garden, but it also the cue for adult Japanese beetles (Popillia japonica) to emerge from the soil. They’ll hit their peak from late June through at least August. I haven’t spotted the metallic green and copper devils in my garden yet, but if the past is any indication, they’ll visit soon.

Colorado State University offers this comprehensive fact sheet with everything we need to know to defend our plants. It’s an especially valuable reference when considering products which may or may not be beneficial in reducing the pests while doing minimal damage to the ecosystem. If there were best seller lists for gardener information, this would be on the top!

Here are important takeaways from the fact sheet:

05601-fig5Japanese beetles feast on foliage, buds and flowers of their favorite plants. Particularly susceptible are roses, Virginia creeper, Linden trees, Rose of Sharon, Japanese maples, Silver lace vine and Gaura are among their favorite targets. Tell-tale signs of Japanese beetle damage are a skeletonized pattern of mutilation on tender, new foliage and deformed flowers or buds. While unsightly, the damage will not kill the plant.

05601-fig8Traps are not beneficial. That yellow trap you’re tempted to hang in your yard is an open invitation for more Japanese beetles to visit. The trap won’t be able to catch them all and the effect is more, not less damage. Perhaps if your neighbor hangs one…?

Picking does help. Japanese beetles are easy to spot in the cooler parts of the day and can be coaxed into a jar of soapy water with a twig or a shake. Catching is preferable to squishing, as a squashed beetle releases a compound which lures more of their kind. While it may not be fun, catching is oddly satisfying!

Do insecticides work? As always, caution must be used to avoid damage to pollinators, especially when plants are in flower. Products containing pyrethrins, azadirachtin and acetamiprid – used in the early morning or at dusk – when bees and other pollinators are less active – are the safest. See the fact sheet for more details and follow all product recommendations carefully.

Consider removing temptation. Can you replace your Virginia creeper with something less enticing? Do you have roses that have struggled for years? Perhaps it’s time to replace with something less alluring. Conversely, when adding to your landscape avoid plants which are irresistible to this insect.

Late season turf damage. Each female Japanese beetle lays 40-60 eggs in her 4-8 week life span. Eggs are laid deep in moist turf soil. Since eggs and subsequent larvae thrive on moisture, keeping soil on the dry side will inhibit grub development and decrease turf damage. Grubs also munch on turf roots, so mowing at a higher height, which promotes vigorous roots, can help reduce turf damage.  More control ideas can be found in this fact sheet.

Have you spotted Japanese beetles in your garden yet?

 

Submitted by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

Gallery

2018 Plant Sale Shined Despite Bad Weather

This gallery contains 7 photos.

Stormy weather failed to dampen the spirits of gardeners at the 13th annual Denver Master Gardener plant sale.  In spite of cloudy skies and cool temperatures, the cash registers recorded around 4000 transactions! “We definitely had our best sale ever,” … Continue reading

10 Tips for Shopping the Spring Plant Sale

crowd at plant saleSpring plant sales have a way of turning otherwise sane people into excited gardeners who lose control at the sight of tables full of NEW PLANTS!

I’ve seen single-minded shoppers move through a crowded plant sale with laser-like precision. I’ve also seen some deer-in-the-headlights shoppers wandering through the sale, empty-handed and overwhelmed at all the planting choices.

That’s why it pays to be ready for plant shopping. Here are 10 ways to get the most bang for your plant sale buck when the Denver Master Gardener Plant Sale opens at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 19:

Arrive early for the best selection. Never has the saying, first come, first served, been more heartfelt than at a plant sale. The early worm gets first choice of heirloom tomatoes, culinary herbs, cool-season vegetables and specialty plants. Even in cool, cloudy weather, gardeners start lining up before the sale to ensure they get their favorites.

pepper plantsGet your peppers while they’re hot—and sweet. The pepper tables are typically the most popular spots at the sale, so if you want peppers stop here first. This year there are 10 hot pepper varieties and 10 sweet and bell pepper choices.

Bring a sturdy box, wagon or cart. Plant boxes are usually available, but they can run low. Bring your own carrier with handles or something with wheels. Try to keep at least one hand free to keep shopping without juggling.

Come prepared. Create a list of your must-have vegetables, herbs, annuals and perennial plants — and  have an idea where you’ll plant them. A plant sale is a bit like a polite feeding frenzy. If you know what plants you want, you can zero in on those.

plant sale wagonTry something new. Gardeners typically stick to the tried-and-true, but every year it’s fun to try something you’ve never planted before. There are dozens of new-to-you varieties that may become next year’s must haves. Think about Jack B Little pumpkins, Cocozella Di Napoli squash or Sugar Baby watermelons. Consider helping feed Monarch Butterflies with a few milkweed plants.

Ask questions, get planting tips. The master gardener volunteers want you to ask questions and tap into their expertise. Don’t be shy. Ask for their recommendations for a too sunny or too shady spot. Get help with whatever’s been bugging you in your garden.

Shop the bargain table. Master gardeners are a generous bunch and they like to clear out their sheds and garages to make way for something new. The bargain table is a frugal gardener’s best bet to score gently-used containers, garden gear, tools, books and other great garden stuff at discount prices. This fundraiser supports CSU Extension outreach efforts and other programs.

Give garden-grown perennials a try. garden grown plantsThe garden-grown section is one of the best ways to expand a garden on a budget. Because they’ve been grown by master gardeners, these plants are a reliable and frugal investment.

Stop by the CSU Hospitality Tent. New this year is a special addition from CSU Denver Initiative. There will be CSU door prizes and other surprises as a way to thank the community for supporting the Denver Master Gardener plant sale for 13 lucky years.

Please share the plant sale details with friends, neighbors, coworkers and anyone who likes to plant and grow!

The Master Gardener Plant Sale is Saturday, May 19 and Sunday, May 20, at Harvard Gulch Park (888 E. Iliff Ave., Denver). For more information: 720-913-5270

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Growing Artichokes in Colorado

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Do you love artichokes? If so, why not add the plant to this year’s veggie garden? Globe artichoke is grown for its tender, delicious flower buds and with some TLC, will be a rewarding plant. A member of the thistle family, Cynara sclolymus is an annual in our zone 5 region, although perennial in  coastal climates with warmer winters and higher humidity. The artichoke in the grocery store was probably grown in northern California.

Planting and Care Tips

Start seeds in early winter, or plant transplants in the ground in early to mid April. Garden centers have starter plants for sale now or will very soon. Protect the plant if Spring “treats” us to a late season frost. A sunny location which gets some afternoon shade is an ideal planting site. Soil should drain well and be amended with 4″ to 6″ of compost, tilled 6″ to 8″ deep. Artichokes are heavy feeders: a 16-16-8 fertilizer can be added at the time of planting and a high nitrogen, 21-0-0, can be worked into the soil monthly thereafter. The plant needs good moisture, however, overly wet crowns will rot and invite slugs. For best success,  water with a soaker hose or drip irrigation and apply mulch to retain moisture and keep the roots cool. An occasional misting will provide beneficial humidity.  Hot, dry conditions yield fast growing but less flavorful plants that are susceptible to aphids.

Artichoke plants can get quite large – up to 4′ feet wide. Check the tag for the spacing on your specific selection. Globe is a highly rated, popular variety with fleshy chokes and excellent flavor, Imperial Star has shown good disease resistance and Romanesco has beautiful purple-tinged bracts and is less “meaty”.

Harvesting

The plant will send up one large and several small buds on a thistle-ly stem. Harvest blooming artichokewhen the buds are tight and about 3″ across. A cook’s tip is to pick chokes which are heavy for their size.  Once the bracts open, the vegetable becomes inedible. It will soon burst into an exquisite flower.

For additional information:

Colorado State University’s trial of six artichoke varieties

Utah State University’s Cooperative Extension’s publication “Artichoke in the Garden”

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com, a source for royalty free images

 

 

 

Indoor Plants & Clean Air

 

Over thirty years ago, NASA began researching methods of air purification in space crafts to pave the way for long-term human space flight. The study, found here, concluded that many common houseplants are highly effective at removing toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, xylene and trichloroethylene. The findings have been replicated many times over. Their relevance today is unmistakable, especially given the number of man-made products which off-gas chemicals in our homes and workplaces, current energy-efficient construction practices, our focus on healthy living and concern for the environment.

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about the relationship between clean air and indoor plants.

How exactly do plants clean the air?

Plants are effective at absorbing gases through pores on the surface of their leaves. It’s this skill that facilitates photosynthesis, the process by which plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. In effect, all plants can purify the air to some extent, but some do a better job than others.

Studies show that plants can absorb many gases, including a long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Benzene (found in some plastics, cloth and pesticides) and formaldehyde (found in some cosmetics, dish detergent, fabric softener and carpet cleaner) are common indoor VOCs that plants help eliminate.

Plant roots and the microorganisms that live in healthy soil also absorb VOCs and other pollutants.

Which plants were used in the NASA study?

Most were common, easy to care for plants which you may have in your home or office right now. Top “air filters” included: Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii), golden pothos (Scindapsus aures), mother in law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’), bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii), dracaena (Dracaena marginata), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), English ivy (Hedera helix), Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema commutatum). Gerbera daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) and potted mums (Chrysantheium morifolium) are also effective air purifiers, but tend to be short-lived flowering houseplants.

Can plants reduce the harmful effects of cigarette smoke in the air?

Cigarettes contain formaldehyde, one of the toxins that plants can remove from the air. However, the plant/cigarette smoke connection was not the focus of the NASA study. A 2010 study by the American Society of Horticulture Science found that ferns were among the most effective plants in formaldehyde removal.  Check out the study for specifics on which ferns offer the best results.

Do I need to live in an indoor jungle to reap benefits?

Hardly! Studies found that approximately one 6″ to 8″ pot per 100 square feet, or 15-18 plants per 1800 square foot house makes a measurable difference.  The more vigorous the plant, the more pollutants it will draw from the air.

 

Photo credits: Bing free images

Written by: Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

How to Read a Seed Packet

seed packetsIf you can read and follow instructions, you can grow a garden.

Most seed packets have all the information a gardener needs to plant and grow whatever seeds are hidden inside. Whether you want to plant flowers, herbs, fruits or vegetables, let the seed packet be your guide.

Instead of falling for the picture on the front of each packet, study the back, especially the number of days to harvest for fruits and vegetables. Our area has a limited number of days for growing each season, and the fewer the days to harvest (especially for tomatoes), the more success you’ll have.

Here’s the most important information seed companies want you to have — and to use:

Plant name–Both the common name, like Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach, and the scientific name, Spinacia oleracea.

Type of plant—Types can include heirloom, hybrid, organic and other identifiers.

Plant description—The description includes basic information on whether the plant is an annual, biennial or perennial and some of its key features. The plant’s history, height and width may also be included.

Packed for date—Seeds are packed for and sold by the current year; however, seeds packed for previous years are usually good to plant for several years.

Planting time—Planting time depends on weather conditions for a specific area. Some packets include hardiness zone maps with a month or a range of months for planting.

Seed packets will also give information on whether to start seeds indoors or to plant seeds outside.

  • Start seeds inside according to the packet’s recommendation, usually 6-8 weeks before the average last frost date.  CSU Extension offers a guide to frost dates to help with garden planning. Avoid planting seeds too early.
  • Plant seeds outdoors after the soil has dried and warmed to the optimum soil temperature. A CSU Extension handout and a kitchen or digital thermometer will help determine when to plant specific vegetables. Planting too soon or too late could be a reason some seeds fail to sprout.

Light needs—The amount of sunlight plants need from full sun to partial shade. Most fruits and vegetables need at least 6 hours of sun every day.

Row spacing—The amount of space between rows allows enough space for plants to grow without being crowded.

Planting space—Spacing is also critical between individual plants. Spacing may include how closely to plant seeds and how to thin the plants once they start growing.

Seed depth—Use a ruler or other guide and follow seed depth recommendations. If seeds are planted too deep, they may have a hard time reaching the top of the soil.

Days to sprout or germinate—Keep track of germination dates so you’ll know the timing of when plants start to grow. If seeds fail to sprout, replant seeds and they should catch up quickly.

Days to harvest (or mature)—For vegetables, the harvest dates will vary depending on the variety or cultivar. Harvest fruits and vegetables when they’re at their peak and avoid leaving vegetables on plants too long.

Special information—Depending on the seeds and seed company, there may be growing notes, staking information, fertilizer recommendations, suggestions for cutting or harvesting, recipes and other tips for success.

By following the seed packet instructions, gardeners can guess less and get more enjoyment from their gardening experience.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Denver Gardeners Needed for Research Study

community gardenWould you like your gardening efforts to contribute to important scientific research? If you live in Denver and are relatively new to gardening, CAPS needs you.

CAPS stands for the Community Activation for Prevention Study. The University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver Urban Gardens are working together on a randomized controlled study to discover how community gardening affects health. Other partners include Michigan State University, the University of South Carolina and Colorado State University.

The three-year study is funded by a grant from the American Cancer Society. Gardeners are now being recruited for the second wave of the study. When CAPS ends, more than 300 gardeners will contribute to the study and help researchers understand if and how gardening can prevent serious health issues, like cancer.

Study participants will be randomly selected for one of two groups: those who grow a garden in a DUG community garden and those who are on a DUG wait list (the control group). Researchers measure both groups and compare the results based on their diets, physical activity levels and other health indicators.

CAPS is looking for Denver-area folks who are over 18 and have an interest in gardening. The participants need to be new gardeners or gardeners who haven’t been actively gardening for the last two years. Study participants will be matched to a nearby DUG community garden and their garden plot fees are covered.

Experienced Denver-metro gardeners are encouraged to spread the word about CAPS to beginning or lapsed gardeners. Find out more about the study, the investigative team, and the study’s partners at the CAPS website or get in touch with Angel Villalobos, program coordinator, at 303-724-1235 or Angel@dug.org.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener