Monthly Archives: April 2015

Balcony Gardening – Containers

Time to get your balcony garden ready for planting.

Rules:  ask the building management or homeowner’s association if there are any rules about having planters on your balcony.  You don’t want to invest money in pots and soil and not be able to use them.

Containers:  Check last year’s containers for cracks or sun-fading.  If you are buying new containers check out this link about container gardening basics 

When researching containers be aware that some articles may focus on patio containers – where weight and water run-off is not a consideration.  This link to house plant containers has useful information that could be applied to balcony containers.

You can buy up-scale containers that are light-weight plastic but look like ceramic or stone.  Most of these do not have a drainage hole.  Planting directly into these containers you run the risk of over-watering and drowning your plants.  It is best to put a saucer inside this pot and another container with a drain hole.

If you would rather re-use and re-purpose  – local thrift stores have many different types and sizes of pots and planters.  Just wash them out with regular dish soap.  In most cases that is sufficient.

Pots with a drainage hole need a saucer under them.  You do not want to water your plants and have the excess drip down into your neighbor’s balcony.  Deep saucers with sides at least an inch or more will work the best.  You can pour water into the saucer and the plant will soak it up from the bottom.

Pot sizes:  You can use large pots on your balcony if you do not fill them completely with soil.  Most annual plants and culinary herbs only about 6 inches of soil.  Fill the bottom of your 2 foot tall container with empty water bottles or other light weight items that will take up room and not break down in the soil.   You can top off the container with a saucer and a pot with the plants in it.  Or you could top with a saucer and then fill the top with soil.  Some soil and water will drip down into the bottom of your container but that will not usually not cause any problems.

Check back next month to hear about soil and plants or you can jump ahead to more detailed information in this Colorado State University Fact Sheet on container gardening.

CSU Extension’s Spring Soil Health Awareness Campaign

What is CSU Extension’s Spring Soil Health Awareness Campaign?

During the spring of 2015, a host of partner organizations throughout Denver will be take part in CSU Extension’s Soil Health Awareness Campaign to increase public awareness around the importance of good soil health for growing plants and food. To help accomplish this, CSU will provide 150 free soil test kits and free analysis for residents who are interested in determining their soil health for home gardening. These 150 free soil test kits will be available at 7 locations throughout Denver for pick-up and drop off. Once the free soil test kits are committed, CSU Extension will continue distributing soil test kits for the standard fee of $35 for routine garden and landscape testing. Additional testing for soil amendments, sodium, chromium, molybdenum, cadmium and lead has an additional fee.  These kits and the analysis have been donated by the CSU Department of Soil and Crop Sciences.

Additional to the free soil test kits, CSU Extension will provide a series of activities and programs this spring to educate Denver residents about not only soil health, but also establishing a front yard farm stand, selling Cottage Foods, nutrition education, healthy and low-cost recipes, cooking demonstrations, and food safety. Programs will be conducted throughout Denver at some of our partner organizations’ locations. The Spring Soil Health Awareness Campaign partners include The Growhaus, Colorado Aquaponics, ReVision, Focus Points, Groundwork Denver, Livewell, Denver Urban Gardens, the CSU Soil & Crop Sciences Department, and Denver City Council Members Robin Kniech, Deborah Ortega, and Judy Montero.

Focus of programming and events will align with Extension research-based Best Practices. Efforts will be complimentary to the Denver Food Ordinance that now allows backyard vegetable producers to sell home produce and cottage foods at a front yard farm stand. This is a strategy that should create local economic activity, promote some local food sourcing, and allow Denver residents to have a better connection with where their food comes from. Most or all of CSU Extension’s programming will be made available in Spanish as well as English.

The Goals for CSU Extension’s Spring Soil Health Awareness Campaign:

 To educate the Denver community regarding the importance of soil health when growing, selling or consuming fruits and vegetables from home gardens.

 To help improve the overall health of Denver residents by conducting relevant programming that encourages soil health, safe backyard gardening, Cottage Food production and sales, food safety practices, nutrition education, and front-yard farm stand sales to the public.

 To promote local economic opportunity for Denver residents by educating about the operation of a home-based front yard farm stand selling fresh produce, fruit and/or Cottage Foods.

Date TBD: Cottage Food Training specifically for Spanish speaking microfarmer promontoras from Revision – (12 to 20 kits) – Karin Neidfeldt and Kristin Lacy.

Date(s) TBD: Microfarmer Promontora Training for ReVision, titled “Plant Families and Companion Planting in a 20×20 Garden.” Kristin Lacy from ReVision, Dan Goldhamer, Karin Niedfeldt and Rusty Collins will organize a special Horticulture and Food Safety program for the 25 participants in the Westwood community Microfarmer project through ReVision. Extension will distribute (25) soil test kits to program participants.

May 16th & 17th (Saturday and Sunday): Denver Master Gardeners Plant Sale, 8:00am – 3:00pm. Located at Harvard Gulch Park, 888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver 80210. Soil test kits will be made available for plant sale shoppers. This event is on Saturday from 8:00am-3:00pm and Sunday from 10:00am-3:00pm.

May 30th (Saturday): CSU Alumni and Denver Extension Urban Ag Bus Tour and Farm-to-Table Chef Catered Event featuring locally grown food and a chef presentation. The CSU Alumni Association is offering an Urban Ag Bus Tour and Farm to Table dinner for $50, reserved to the first 50 participants. To register follow this link

For more information, please contact the CSU Denver Extension Office at 720-913-5270.

Spring Garden Clean-up

Spring Garden Clean-up

If you are like me, the autumn clean-up in the garden often rolls over into spring.  With warmer days bringing thoughts of planting, now is the time to finish up (or even begin) those garden clean-up chores.  Start with cleaning your tools and sharpening blades if needed.

One preliminary note – the severe sudden cold that the Front Range experienced in November of 2014 will lead to damage of plants which will not become apparent until this spring in 2015.  Temperatures dropped from the high 60’s to minus 14 degrees over 4 days causing damage to needles and bud on trees, possibly killing other garden ornamentals, and freezing roses down to the ground.  See the following Landscape Health Bulletin from the Extension Service for details on trees and how they may be affected: .

Since some deciduous trees and bushes are bare of leaves and some are still dormant, assess them now for pruning needs.  Trim out branches that cross one another and rub together, or that were broken or damaged by wind or snow loads.  It is better to wait on pruning such trees as birch, maple, walnut, and elms.  They will often “bleed sap” when pruned in the spring and respond better to pruning in the summer after leaves grow and turn a full summer green.

Do not prune spring blooming trees and shrubs at this time.  The flower buds were set in the summer or fall of the previous year and pruning will remove this year’s blossoms.

Cut back dead leaves on perennials and leggy stems on ornamental grasses.  Trim woody perennials which only bloom on new wood, such as lavender or buddleia, after hard frost danger has passed. Remove and compost debris from dead annual flowers, the spent dry leaves from irises, and any remaining ground-fall leaves not being utilized for mulch.

Spring garden clean-up time is great for an early start on weeding.  When the ground is soft and damp and the weeds are small, it is much easier to remove them than to wait until they are ready to swallow your ornamentals.  Weed a little every time you tour your beds, and the job will not become overwhelming (we do hope.)

When perennials start to emerge, it is an ideal time to divide and transplant them.  As you do so, assess your beds for the need for additional mulch.  Also, now is a good time to check out any irrigation systems, particularly drip hoses and soaker hoses, for any leaks and holes needing repair.  Add mulch where needed (or wait until you add any new plants to the beds) and edge beds anew.

What about soil amendments?  Now is a good time for a soil test if you have not submitted one recently, particularly for ornamental and vegetable gardens.  Test kits are available from your local extension office and some nurseries and greenhouses.  A CSU fact sheet on soil tests is available at the following link:

Although it is tempting to trim all the dead wood on roses, it is best to wait until the end of April or early May.  (The Denver Rose Society suggests waiting until the forsythia are blooming in your neighborhood.)

You should also get your containers ready for the gardening season.  Clean out any dead plants, add additional container soil, if necessary, and start designing for spring.  Consider some cool weather crops like lettuce or spinach for early containers.

Do you have a compost pile?  Now is a good time to turn it and get it ready for use.  If you have mature compost, you may wish to apply some to beds before mulching and planting.  Wait for the soil to warm before planting tender annuals, generally around Mother’s Day in the Denver area.  You can plant early cool-weather spring vegetables as soil conditions allow, usually as early as the beginning of April.

If you have early blooming bulbs such as crocus and tulips, do not cut the foliage from the spent blooms. The foliage is busy making food for next year’s bulbs and flowers.

These tips will get you started on a new canvas for your artful and fruitful spring and summer garden.

By Mary Beth Cooper, Denver County Master Gardener

How to Celebrate Lawn Care Month in April

green lawn with chairs

It takes a little work to whip a lawn into shape each spring.

After a long winter, it’s time to step outside and take a long look at the lawn. Most gardeners won’t like what they see.

While some lawns will look thick and green, thanks to that routine fall fertilizing, other lawns will need some help. To get the turf back on track means raking, aerating, weeding, reseeding, fertilizing, and watering. Fortunately it doesn’t all have to be done on the same warm spring day.

1. Grab a rake. Remove dead grass, fallen leaves and other debris from the lawn. If your lawn shows signs of thatch, like brown spots and general thinning, it may be time to use a power rake to lightly go over the lawn. The rake will remove the layer of built-up organic matter that sits between the leaf zone and the soil, usually caused by compacted soil.

2. Aerate the soil. Invigorate the lawn by aerating, also called core cultivation. Aerating reduces soil compaction, improves water infiltration, encourages root growth, and helps with seed germination. Rent a machine or hire a lawn crew to pull plugs of grass at regular intervals over the lawn surface. Be sure to leave the plugs on the lawn to decompose and help fertilize the lawn.

3. Manage weeds. It’s best to tackle grassy weeds, like crabgrass, with a pre-emergent herbicide in spring after the soil has warmed. With proper timing, one application will eliminate these troublesome weeds all summer long. It’s better to apply pre-emergent herbicides sooner rather than later. Apply either before or after aeration and water in well.

Because most pre-emergent herbicides can also kill germinating grass seed, delay adding grass seed to the lawn until late summer or early fall.

4. Add grass seed. The best way to keep the lawn healthy and weed free is to encourage thick growth. Apply a good quality, compatible grass seed after the lawn is aerated to give maximum seed-to-soil contact and to improve seed germination. Keep the seed moist, but avoid saturating the grass. It will take about 10-14 days for seeds to sprout.

5. Fertilize. Fertilizers add the nutrients your blue-grass lawn needs. Nitrogen is especially important if you want a thick green lawn. Use a balanced fertilizer that has nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, iron and sulfur. April is a good time to fertilize, especially if no fertilizing was done in fall.

For all the top turf tips, including how to handle dog spots in the lawn, visit CSU’s Turf Program website.

Now, what tips do you have for celebrating National Lawn Care Month?