Monthly Archives: September 2019

tree walk.

Last Monday, my dear friend and Community Forester, Chuck Sugent, and I took a neighborhood stroll to identify trees because I find myself recommending (or “oh, that’s an oh-no-no’ tree!”) at the farmer’s market; but when it comes down to it, I can hardly identify any trees at all and rely on the Front Range Tree Recommendation List. or the Denver approved tree list. My learning style is not entirely visual but seeing and discussing something certainly increases the likelihood of future accurate recitation. After a minor location miscommunication (“Heading your way!” “Good thing you sent that. I thought I was heading your way. Oy!”), we set off through a tree-lined neighborhood between downtown and City Park.

Chuck is the kinda guy who’s gonna be the good guy: he’s got the information, and he wants to share it (perhaps with an old-timey gangster of New York wiseguy affectation). So he took no pause when I suggested the idea of a tree walk. We’ve talked about the CMG program and community forestry in terms of our own participation for community stewardship, and have oft discussed a crossover—and thus, we went! We set off to name the trees and, in addition, ended up pretend-pruning, dreaming, and trouble-shooting all the ailments. Everything I espouse, I learned from Chuck (it was a very informative afternoon). Here’s an absurdly simplistic overview of the main players:

Crabapples

Gorgeous and quite popular. Responsible for the pinkening of the city each spring. Many varieties of different sizes and fruits. Also, edible. I grew up with a crabapple tree at my grandmother’s house which was the source of many summers dares to the youngest of us to “just try it! You’ll love it!” followed by giggle fits at the sight of desperate acceptance puckering away at the tiny bite. So—raw is a no, but cooked with sugar and acid makes for delicious desserts; or my family fav: Crabapple whiskey. Fill a jar with crabapples, a cinnamon stick, ginger, cloves and top with whiskey. Tuck it away until Christmas, strain and serve.

Silver Maple

Thirsty mother lovers. They grow quickly and provide lots of shade. We have a ton of them in our metro canopy, but they are currently on a moratorium from planting in city right-of-way areas.

Honeylocust/Black Locust

Black Locust has a darker trunk than the Honeylocust. Tiny leaves, gorgeous lemon color through the fall. However, tiny leaves make a mega mess–however, however, the leaves decompose quickly and return the nutrients to the soil. Also, a popular choice in this area, and continues to be on recommended tree lists for a new planting (NOTE: many varieties are on the recommended list, but the Sunburst Honeylocust is also on the moratorium list for street planting in Denver)

Sugar Maple

Classic Canadian flag. Gorgeous flaming fall coloring. The moisture level is moderate for this group, and they do not tolerate salty soil very well but are fairly drought tolerant. 

Hackberry

This one makes Chuck’s shortlist of recommended trees for the metro area. The Hackberry has no known local pest, is native to Colorado, and drought tolerant. The Hackberry can get up to 50 feet tall, so consider this one for a street-side as a shade option. Lovely red berries darken to maroon in the Fall and provide home and a food source to the critters. Chuck calls this one a Hammer Tree; an all-around good selection.

Linden

When we happened upon our first Linden of the walk, Chuck took a step aside and said, “There are two kinds of Linden trees, and here’s how I remember them: LLL.” At this point, he raises his voice to denote the first type “LARGE LEAF LINDEN” followed by a substantially lower volume for the “littleleaf Linden.” He proceeded to crack himself up, and we carried on. There are many cultivars of Linden recommended in this area. Lindens are an attractive pyramidal shape, sensitive to salty soils, and their flowers attract bees and birds. Beware of the area you are considering, Lindens do not love high heat areas and should be planted away from any hardscaping. 

Oak

Ever sturdy and reliable. The oak leaves have a bit of a leathery texture to reduce evapotranspiration, making them more drought-tolerant, and an excellent tree choice for this area. Their leaves differ in pattern depending on the cultivar but typically have the characteristic lobes and sinuses. The Bur Oak (recommended for the Metro area), is roughly obovate with many lobes and is pale and fuzzy underneath.

Ash

If you’re reading this… need I say more? See Plum for contingency planning. We have a million (estimated 1.45 million in the Denver Metro area) Ash trees. Aside from the EAB creeping into town, the Ash tree has a tendency to appear real leggy under the canopy when not properly pruned. We saw many examples of Ash trees with a lot of deadwood inside the canopy; this can be problematic when the wind picks up. They served a great function for our canopy by growing quickly and providing robust shade; but unfortunately, we’ve got to continue considering the impending Armageddon. What build projects shall we consider for a future influx of Ashwood? Denver also has a moratorium on planting Ash trees in public right-of-ways. 

Plum

The purple leaf plum is my fan fav, and will likely be planted in my own front yard next Spring since my future self called and said: “This giant elm thing in your front yard was planted improperly, is massive, and when it goes, your front yard is gonna be U.G.L.Y.” Contingency planning in full swing. I encourage y’all to take a walkabout your own homes and chat with future self, especially regarding anything that is shade bearing. Something I picked up from my buddy whilst traipsing on the tree walk: purple leaf plums require regular pruning for flowering (Is anyone else as smitten by the plurality of prunes in this context?)  Remove the deadwood and prune 1/3 the length of new growth. We found a perfect example and made pernicious prunes with finger scissors.

Colorado Blue Spruce

Beautiful. Also better at a higher elevation. We did see a few stunners, though, and learned a neat trick for tree ID: the leaf of a fir tree will be flat and flexible. Spruce, on the other hand, will be square and sharp (see what he did there?). Grab a leaf, roll it between your fingers, and name it quickly with this handy guide.

Photo by Dids from Pexels

Aspen

May make it to a mature size but inevitably will crash and burn. I’ve been touting this gospel for a while now, and take every opportunity to point out a struggler to my wife. which has become problematic, because now she counters by showing me all the healthy Aspen in the Metro area. The truth of the matter is an aspen tree (or maybe even a small clump of them) has the ability to thrive with the proper tender loving care… for a while. Above and beyond the statistically insignificant number of Aspen in the front range who appear to be doing well, they aren’t built for this elevation, and forcing them to do so causes undue stress, and makes them more vulnerable, hastening their predisposition to die anyway. Don’t do it. Go to the mountains more often and enjoy them in their own territory.


Beyond my self-imposed (and singularly played) trivia that entailed me interrupting, pointing, and shouting guesses; we also discussed the conversational piece of tree maintenance. Chuck indicated he has many chats with his neighbors about their trees and takes these moments to build his community and integrate his passion with friendly educational moments. We discussed the evidentiary tribulations of a tree in demise, that twists it’s trunk and bears the stripes of turmoil. We debated the suckers: their yappy attempts to address internal stress, and what to do with them (should we leave them and let it try to capture the energy it is craving? OR whack them back always? And when?) We talked about injury to a tree, and how the tree may cover and scab the wound, but the wound remains and the tree is still vulnerable. Chuck showed me a hackberry tree covered in galls. We both got lost in our attempts to recall the origins but settled on something about defense mechanisms and how they rarely hurt the tree.

As we were nearing our last corner on the way home, Chuck remembered a tree we hadn’t encountered that he loves. I’ve developed a habit this summer that whenever I see this tree, I shout it’s name, probably because it’s so fun to say, but shouting also seems appropriate just to communicate the whimsy of the CATALPA! Just try and say it without a bit of a shout. The Catalpa is also a recommended and robust tree for our area. It’s got those built-in wands and/or swords for play, and bright green wide leaves provide a huge amount of shade. . They are another tough tree, worthy of your scape.

Other items on Chuck’s “Oh no-no” list? Planting a tree too deep? Oh, no-no. Scoffing at the bare root and opting for a burlapped and caged tree? Oh, no-no. Planting anything from the Birch fam in Denver? Oh no-no.  Hiring an arborist annually to tame your trees? Oh, no-no. With a little reading, Youtube-ing, or friendly forester finding, folks can save bunches of bucks by learning how to make the minor pruning adjustments to your tree every year to avoid the future big bills from an arborist. Trees can easily be grown and cared for by their owners working from reliable and factual info. Of course, always consult a pro when your tree questions start toeing the line safe vs. unsafe. 

https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/#trees

As DMG’s we get loads of questions about trees at the farmer’s markets. We try our best to offer small sagelings of fact-checked info, but what I’ve found to be more helpful is keeping the company of a forester. Trees are just as essential to the garden crew as our lawns, beds, and weeds. I encourage everyone to branch out (a thousand apologies for that one) and get connected–or get involved and become a Community Forester, yourself!


PS. Did you know if you live in Denver you can get nearly *free* trees?

By McKenna Hynes

Apprentice Colorado Master Gardener since January 2019

Transplanting Peonies

Image: Pixabay.com

Many gardeners eagerly await the annual early summer explosion of peonies. Whether ruffled, double blossoms or open-faced single flowers, peonies make a striking display, particularly in established cottage-y perennial gardens.

Adding to their popularity, they are relatively disease-free and long-lived. Unlike many herbaceous perennials, they do not need to be divided every few years. In fact, they prefer not to be disturbed. However, transplanting is a smart choice if the location has become too shady, the plant has outgrown the space or aesthetically it just isn’t in the right spot.

Fall is the very best time to move the plants as they are not actively growing and are preparing to go into dormancy. If transplanted in September or October the roots will have time to settle in while temperatures are cooler but before frost sets in.

Here are some tips for successful transplanting this popular plant.  

Removal –  excavate as much root as possible, by digging straight down and around the plant about eighteen inches from the crown. Carefully lift the root ball from the soil and try to avoid breaking the stems. The foliage can be trimmed at this time; it will yellow and die after the first frost.

Relocation – choose a site that gets at least six hours of full sun to insure prolific blooms.  An added benefit of fall transplanting is the ability to properly space the plant in the full grown garden. Edit surrounding plants if needed to accommodate the new resident and allow for good air circulation.

Preparation – the planting hole should as large or slightly larger than the rootball. Amend the hole with one third to one half of compost mixed into the garden soil to improve drainage. Peonies will not thrive in heavy clay soil so don’t skip this step if your soil drains slowly.

Peony “eyes” and root stock. Image: University of Pennsylvania Extension.

Planting Depth – the “eyes” of the plant should be planted no more than two inches deep. This insures the plant will bloom successfully. The “eyes” are the white or pink fleshy nubs on the rootstock; they will become next year’s flower stems. Peonies that produce few blooms are often planted too deeply.

Division – if you choose to divide the plant, each new segment should have at least three to five eye buds and attached roots. Divisions can be cut with a knife and inspected. Discard if the clumps show signs of insect damage or are mushy. 

Moisture – water well once transplanted and watch for periods of prolonged drought through the winter. Plants can be mulched after frost sets in. 

The plant may take an additional year to get comfortable in its new home and rebloom. Don’t despair – given a sunny location, proper soil preparation and planting depth, your peony will thrive for many years to come. 

Additional Resource:

https://planttalk.colostate.edu/topics/annuals-perennials/1042-peony/

Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener


Meet the Farmers Market Garden Squad

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

Meet Carol Earle and Margot Thompson

Carol Earle (left) and Margot Thompson are the engines that keep the farmers market Master Gardener outreach project on track.

More than 1300 inquisitive gardeners stop by the Ask a Master Gardener tent every summer at the Cherry Creek and City Park Esplanade farmers markets. Some ask timely questions about pests like Japanese beetles and others just like to chat about their gardens.

Colorado Fresh Markets generously donates the valuable space at each farmers market, and Master Gardeners help the market by gathering customer demographic information.

With every interaction there’s a CSU Extension Denver Master Gardener ready to offer advice, hand out resources or lend a sympathetic gardening ear. Because Ask a Master Gardener starts in May and runs through October, hundreds of volunteer openings need filling. Those volunteers also need a tent, banners, table, reference books, CSU Extension fact sheets, brochures, bookmarks and other materials.

While the Ask a Master Gardener effort runs smoothly now, it wasn’t always that way. When it started in the mid-1990s, scheduling was difficult and staffing was inconsistent. At one point the farmers market organization wasn’t sure it wanted to continue the collaboration.

That was before Carol Earle got involved and helped reorganize the farmers market volunteer project in 2002.

“In those days scheduling was all done manually, on the phone and by hand,” Carol explained. “Master Gardeners could check for a volunteer opening and then call a scheduler to get on a shift. It worked that way for years,” she said.

While scheduling for the farmers market is more efficient now, the need for someone to handle the behind-the-scenes work continues. Carol makes sure there are enough handouts and supplies for the markets, ensures there are enough volunteers to staff the markets, and helps transport equipment when needed.

She also fills in and works the market when there aren’t enough volunteers, like over Labor Day weekend. She spends more hours volunteering for the market than she tracks each summer.

“Carol has been volunteering for the farmers market for about 20 years and is trying to get out of it, but keeps getting sucked back in!” said Merrill Kingsbury, Master Gardener program assistant.

Carol agrees. “We don’t pay to be there, so I want to make sure we keep up our end of the bargain,” she said. “Now we’re a draw and people look for us at the market. I feel invested in making sure it runs right and we keep our obligation. We now have a reputation to uphold.”

She said she’s able to devote her time and energy to the market because she skips taking vacations in the summer.

“A lot of times I felt I should let someone else have a chance at doing it,” she said. “But I hated to leave the office in a lurch. I can’t cut and run now,” she joked.

“The advantage of volunteering at the farmers market is you learn a lot there, it reinforces what you learn in class, and you learn how to talk with people, answer questions and direct them to resources.”

In addition to her farmers market volunteer commitment, Carol has helped create and maintain vegetable and therapy gardens at the Denver Children’s Home.

She began her Master Gardener training in 1999 when one of her neighbors recruited her, but she was unsure she’d be accepted because of limited gardening experience as an adult. However, when she was 5 or 6 she had worked with her sister to weed their grandfather’s strawberry patch with a little hoe he made specially for them.

It wasn’t until she retired from her marketing job with a mining company that she bloomed as a gardener. Her neighbor helped her learn how to grow native shrubs and perennial flowers. This season she’s growing a ratatouille vegetable garden in a shared plot at the Denver Botanic Gardens Community Garden.

“I love the market, I like working with Master Gardeners, and I like getting to know the apprentices,” she said.

Even though she loves volunteering for the farmers market, she’s ready to let others learn to love it, too.

Last season Margot Thompson offered to lend Carol a hand and took over coordinating the Wednesday markets at Cherry Creek. The two work closely together to make sure materials are in place and the schedule is staffed with the right combination of Master Gardeners and apprentices.

“I like exchanging ideas with other Master Gardeners, getting suggestions from the apprentices and answering different questions every week,” Margot said.

Gardening is in her DNA and she’s been at most of her life. She’s able to answer questions based on her Master Gardener training and her own gardening experience, especially when those questions are about Japanese beetles.

“I remember being 4 years old and picking Japanese beetles off of plants in my parents’ garden in Massachusetts,” she said. “I got paid one penny for every beetle I picked.”

Margot used to have a big vegetable garden at her home in southeast Denver, but the trees have taken over and now it’s mostly a shade garden. She still plants and grows in containers wherever she can find some sun. She also finds time to volunteer at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Margot started as a Master Gardener in 1998 after retiring from a career as a physical therapist. Besides the farmers market, some of her early volunteer assignments included helping with the Habitat for Humanity program and starting community gardens at the Marian Plaza senior apartments.

“We were trying to make sure the residents had fresh vegetables to cook with,” she said. Denver Urban Gardens helped create the garden plots and volunteers worked to buy hoses to help with irrigation, among other tasks. It was a big project, she said.

Margot thinks volunteering at the farmers market “is a great way to share information and for people to give us information we can use, too. We can always learn something.”

She said her favorite time to volunteer at the market is early in spring. That’s when she can give balcony gardeners ideas for growing vegetables in containers. She also likes to help the new-to-Denver transplants who stop at the Master Gardener tent to ask, “How do you garden here?”

Image and text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Milkweed Longhorn Beetle

Whoa! Look at this critter hanging out on Asclepias curassvica ‘Silky Mix’ milkweed, an annual milkweed I’m growing in planters. For perspective, the leaves in the photo are about 5.5″ long and 1.5″ wide at the longest point. While new-to-me, Milkweed Longhorn Beetle or Red Milkweed Beetle (Tetraopes femoratus) is relatively common and found throughout Colorado.

All milkweed longhorns feed and develop only on milkweeds (Asclepias spp), some feed only on one species, while others are not as particular. This visitor showed no interest in the nearby native milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa.

It hung out on a stem for several days, did little obvious damage to the foliage or flowers and moved only slightly. They can often be seen mating on the plant, although I only saw a solitary beetle.

The female milkweed beetle lays eggs at the root crown. The larvae, called roundheaded borers, will tunnel into the root system and later emerge as adults which live about a month. According to Dr. Whitney Cranshaw of Colorado State University, longhorn beetles rarely cause serious damage to plants.

Milkweed longhorns make a squeaking sound, especially if held (I don’t know this from experience). It is believed this is a warning noise. “Purring” has also been reported as a mating call.

The distinctive color is a result of feeding on the alkaloid toxins which are contained in the milkweed sap. This is the same defensive toxin found in monarch butterflies. The flashy color screams “danger” to predators.

If you are growing milkweed, keep your eye out for these colorful, over-sized beetles.

For more info:

Colorado Insects of Interest, Milkweed Longhorn Beetle

Red Milkweed Beetle. University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee

Text and photo by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener