Monthly Archives: May 2016

Hail Season is Here – Don’t Despair!

Gardening along the Front Range of Colorado is not for the faint of heart. We have to deal with poor soil, wild temperature swings, intense sun, a short growing season and hail. Somewhere in the Denver Metro area someone will experience the heartbreak of hail this season. It is hit or miss from year to year, but it is inevitable. The results can be devastating. In a few minutes,  a gardener’s hard work can lay in ruin.

Hail June 2015

Hail – June 2015

The first thing to remember when you experience hail damage is not to panic or lose hope. That is hard to do when everything in your garden has been shredded to confetti.  The initial inclination is to give up for the year and pull everything out. Don’t do it. Take a deep breath and stand back. Some plants may be done for the year, but others will come back even if they look terrible right now. Plants want to grow. They have an amazing ability to come back.

In 2015, our garden experienced two severe hail storms: one at the beginning of June and one the last week of June. We knew that most of our perennials would come back with time, but our vegetables were in a sorry state. Most were reduced to green sticks with a few tattered leaves hanging on for dear life. At that moment, it was hard not to throw in the towel for the season and head to the farmers market for produce. After much wailing and hand wringing, we went out in the garden and cleaned up the dead plant material. We took care to leave any foliage that looked like it might have a bit of life left.  Then we waited. Within a week or so, our tattered vegetable plants showed signs of renewed growth. Soon they were leafing out with abandon. We helped them along with light applications of liquid kelp fertilizer. By the end of July, we were harvesting vegetables from the same plants we thought were lost in June.  It was not our best harvest, but it was very good given the challenges we faced.

One small confession – we did buy a few new plants to hedge our bets. It was late in the season to buy vegetables at the garden center. The selection was not great.  The replacement plants got a late start and needed to get established. In the end, the replacements did not do as well as the original plants. Although the foliage on the original plants was shredded, those plants had been in the ground for over a month and had strong established root systems.  It’s not always what you see above ground that matters most.

If you have the misfortune this season to be hit by hail, remember:

 

  • Don’t panic.
  • Clean up the dead foliage.
  • Leave foliage that still has life.
  • Do light applications of fertilizer.
  • Be patient.
  • Click here for more tips.

By Mark Zammuto,  Denver County Master Gardener

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Hardy Gardeners Make for a Blooming Great Sale

heirloom tomatoesCloudy skies and the threat of rain weren’t enough to stop gardeners from shopping for plants at the Denver Master Gardener’s annual plant sale. The  number of gardeners on Saturday surely set a record, because by Sunday morning there wasn’t a single pepper plant left on the tables.

“We have never seen as big a turnout from the public as we saw on Saturday morning,” says Merrill Kingsbury, CSU Extension Master Gardener coordinator. “The turnout was phenomenal.”

It takes months of planning and an incredible volunteer effort to make sure the annual sale is a success. In addition to the hours of planning meetings, there were days spent seeding and tending plants in the greenhouse, potting up garden grown plants, writing labels, and transporting plants to the sale.

An army of  volunteers showed up to organize tables, staff them, and then tear them down at the end of each day.

The annual plant sale is a fundraiser and also an educational outreach to the community. At the CSU Extension information table, gardeners could enter to win a hanging basket and pick up handouts on best practices for growing their vegetable gardens. A poster offered ways to deal with Japanese Beetles.

The annual plant sale is a fundraiser and also an educational outreach to the community. At the CSU Extension information table, gardeners could enter to win a hanging basket and pick up handouts on best practices for growing their vegetable gardens. Posters provided suggestions for planting creative containers, plants for butterfly gardening, and ways to control Japanese beetles.

Denver Master Gardener apprentice Susan Hoopfer offers advice for planting Milkweed (Asclepias) to a gardener interested in attracting Monarch butterflies to her garden.

Denver Master Gardener apprentice Susan Hoopfer offers advice for planting Milkweed (Asclepias) to a gardener interested in attracting Monarch butterflies to her garden.

Beginning gardeners had a chance to ask all the questions they wanted for planting their first vegetable garden.

Beginning gardeners buy plants and ask questions to get ready for planting their first vegetable garden.

At the houseplant and patio table, Barb Pitner helps a new gardener find the perfect plant.

At the houseplant and patio table, Master Gardener Barb Pitner helps a new gardener find the perfect indoor plant.

Apprentice Chad Thompson enjoyed his first plant sale by helping answer questions about annuals.

Apprentice Chad Thompson spends his first plant sale at the annuals table, answering questions and offering planting advice.

Now it’s time for Denver Master Gardeners to take a deep breath and nurse sore muscles before starting to plan next year’s sale.

Lawn Care: Core vs. Liquid Aeration

Core lawn aeration, completed in the spring or fall (or both, especially if revitalizing a stressed or sadly neglected lawn) is considered one of the best practices for maintaining healthy lawns as it promotes strong turf by reducing soil compaction and thatch. The practice of removing plugs of lawn (which are approximately 2.5+ inches long, .75 inches in diameter and spaced 2 inches apart) is done by a company using specialized equipment. It’s a simple, non-chemical, relatively inexpensive process which promotes healthy growth throughout the lawn.

The removal of plugs creates better air circulation below the soil line, reduces approximately 10% untitledof the thatch layer and allows moisture and other nutrients to reach the root system more efficiently. These healthy roots create a thicker lawn, which is less susceptible to weeds and more heat tolerant. When the plugs are left on the lawn to disintegrate in a week or so, they redistribute nutrients into the turf. However, raking up the plugs for aesthetics is a personal preference and perfectly OK.

Judging by the number of flyers left on my porch, there are a proliferation of companies offering an alternative to core aeration called liquid aeration. According to two reputable companies I contacted, this product is popular because it does not deposit plugs and provides 100% coverage. Both companies indicated they use proprietary formulations, applied with a truck-mounted hose. The liquid solution breaks up compaction and thatch through the use of non-toxic ingredients, such as thatch eating microbes and surfactants which are wetting agents that increase the absorption of water to the roots. Treatment prices vary and can be more than the cost of core aeration.

Liquid aeration treatments are receiving anecdotal praise by homeowners and appear to be gaining in popularity. Colorado State University researchers note that application of wetting agents at the correct rate may  improve moisture absorption. However, liquid aeration’s impact on soil compaction or overall lawn health has not been scientifically researched. Without evidence to support or negate liquid aeration’s effectiveness, CSU continues to recommend the practice of traditional core aeration.   

 

Photo courtesy of Jodi Torpey

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener