Category Archives: Annual plants

Gardening Predictions for 2021

There may have been one bright spot among the gloom of 2020: The pandemic turned out to be great for horticulture. Experts estimate the industry gained 16-20 million new gardeners during the pandemic.

They’re predicting 85% of those gardeners will continue this year.

If that prediction holds true, experienced gardeners will be competing with new gardeners for seeds, plants, potting soil, mulch, tools, accessories and anything else that helps with planting and growing.

Last year seed catalogs, online retailers and garden shops couldn’t keep up with the overwhelming spring demand. More than a few had to shut down their online systems so they could catch up with orders.

Even though companies say they’re better prepared this year, gardeners should plan ahead and order their favorite varieties yesterday.

Backyard, front yard, patio and balcony food growing will continue to engage new and newer gardeners. Those who had some success last season will be anxious to expand their gardens; those who wished they would’ve started last season will get growing this year. They’ll be on the lookout for heirlooms and all kinds of organic options.

Some plants will sell out sooner than others because of special marketing and promotional programs. That’s especially true for the National Garden Bureau’s Plants of the Year for 2021.

Every year the national organization selects and promotes its Crops of the Year plants. The selections are popular, easy-to-grow, widely adaptable, genetically diverse, and versatile, according to the NGB.

The 2021 Plants of the Year include:

Annual: Sunflowers
Perennial: Monardas
Bulb crop: Hyacinths
Edible: Garden beans
Shrub: Hardy hibiscus

Plant Select has three new introductions for this year that include Drew’s Folly Hardy Snapdragon (Antirrhinum sempervirens), Hokubetsi (Helichrysum trilineatum) and Blanca Peak Rocky Mountain Beardtongue. The Plant Select website features a list of retailers that offer Plant Select plants so you can call ahead to check on availability.

Smaller garden varieties are part of All-America Selections winning plants this year. Goldilocks squash and Pot-a-peno peppers are meant for small-space gardens. The AAS’s Gold Medal winner is Profusion Red Yellow bicolor zinnia that’s sure to be in demand.

The Perennial Plant Association selected Calamintha nepta (calamint) as its Perennial Plant of the Year for 2021. A nice rock garden and border plant, tiny white flowers bloom on a bushy low mounding plant that attracts pollinators to the garden.

Houseplants will continue to be in demand to fill home offices and windowsills that have turned into miniature greenhouses. New offerings include plants that drape over pot edges and tiny plants for tiny places.

Pantone’s colors of the year will show up in plants, flower colors, pottery and other garden accessories. Look for combinations of Illuminating Yellow and Ultimate Gray at big box stores, garden centers, the plant sections at grocery stores and wherever else gardening supplies are sold.

New gardeners will continue searching for resources, help and advice. CSU Extension master gardeners will need to be extra-creative when it comes to cultivating community from a distance, encouraging new gardeners to reach out for reliable information and finding ways to reduce the fear of failure for beginning gardeners.

If you have any gardening predictions for 2021, look into your crystal ball and add your forecast here.

By Jodi Torpey
CSU Extension master gardener since 2005
Image provided by Pixabay

Plan Ahead for Pumpkin Habanero Peppers

Pumpkin habanero peppers are perfect for Halloween. (Image by John Pendleton)

If you like to play practical jokes on your friends, how far in advanced have you planned to put one in place? I’ve waited two full gardening seasons, so far.

The devious prank occurred to me in 2019 when I read about a new “cooler hotter” chile pepper called Pumpkin habanero. These adorable pumpkin-shaped peppers look just like candy, and I thought they’d be a perfect trick for Halloween. I pictured how sweet they’d look sitting next to all the other seasonal treats on a party buffet table. (Cue fiendish laughter.)

Pumpkin habanero peppers are a cross between African and South American habanero peppers that were intentionally planted in the same field as part of a special project at Rutgers University. The two peppers mingled naturally and created a bright orange pumpkin-shaped habanero chile pepper.

These peppers were bred to pack less punch than Scotch Bonnets, more like a hotter jalapeno with a tangerine-like taste. Plant breeders wanted to produce peppers especially suited to the New Jersey climate and to give the state’s immigrant population a taste of home.

As a long-time vegetable gardener and chile grower, I didn’t let pepper facts stand in my way. Surely New Jersey habanero plants could also grow in drier and less humid Colorado.

But first I had to order seeds from the Exotic Pepper Project at Rutgers. The Exotic Pepper program began about 10 years ago as a special agricultural project to create new pepper varieties that were missing in the marketplace. The program was the brainchild of Albert Ayeni, professor of plant biology, together with professors Tom Orton and Jim Simon. They conduct their research at the New Jersey Agriculture Research Station in New Brunswick, N.J.

Pumpkin habanero chile peppers turn from green to orange with time. (Image by Jodi Torpey)

I spent $11 for forty Pumpkin habanero seeds that arrived in time for starting a few indoors in March. The seeds took about 8 weeks to sprout and grow into small, dark green plants with wrinkly leaves. They were ready for transplanting in May. Unfortunately, those first habanero plants struggled and never recovered from an early spring cold spell.

Rats! My Halloween prank would have to wait for the 2020 gardening season.

When spring rolled around, I started another batch of seeds and this time waited to transplant until temperatures really heated up in June. Two small, but healthy Pumpkin habanero plants began growing in containers placed in the hottest spot on the patio.

With a lot of extra TLC, the pepper plants each grew to over 24 inches tall. Every day I looked for small white flowers and then watched for the tiny green peppers to form. They were slow to grow and even slower for the first few to ripen to bright orange in September.

With warm October days helping them along, I had a good crop of perfect pumpkin-shaped peppers for my long-planned prank. But I’m foiled again! With no Halloween parties planned this year, I’ll have to wait for gardening season 2021 for my friends to be treated to my Great Pumpkin trick.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener since 2005

Take a Virtual Container Garden Tour

CSU-Denver Master Gardeners have had extra time to spend in their gardens this summer, but few opportunities to show them off – until now.

Please join our virtual tour to see seven stunning container gardens overflowing with beauty and creativity. The tour features containers of different shapes, sizes, materials, and of course, fabulous plants. These talented gardeners also share their secrets to success.

We hope you enjoy the tour!

Steve Aegerter, CMG since 1999
Steve’s hanging basket includes Calibrachoa in three colors, sweet potato vine and orange nasturtiums (peeking out on right side). He grew nearly everything from seeds, except the potato vine. His planting recipe includes about 3-4 sections of a deep six-pack of Calibrachoa, probably 3-4 nasturtium seeds and 2 sweet potato vines from cuttings.
The basket is low maintenance as flowers are self-cleaning. Steve used 4-month slow-release fertilizer at planting, plus peat moss and vermiculite in a potting soil medium. He waters the hanging basket “every other day which wouldn’t be necessary if I didn’t use sweet potato vine,” he says.

Steff Grogan, CMG since 2018
Steff says she loves to mix perennials and annuals together in her containers, “at least until the perennials outgrow the pot!” One of her favorite plantings this summer included a large container meant for a mostly-shady spot. The container includes 6 varieties of Coleus, 1 Lime Margarita sweet potato vine and 1 purple sweet potato vine.
Steff’s foliage container get 3-4 hours of morning sun and she waters it every other day, depending on heat and precipitation.

Jan Davis, CMG since 2012
Jan sent in a view of one of her large container gardens brimming with a variety of flowering plants. Her secret to such a spectacular display is to use 2-3 plants of the same type in each pot for a bigger splash. She says the show stoppers are the fragrant pink Oriental Trumpet lilies. The lilies are planted in large plastic pots so Jan can remove them from the grouping after blooming is finished. She overwinters them in the garage, after they have gone dormant. “I love this container garden because it is right outside my kitchen window and next to our outdoor eating area,” Jan says. “It gets enjoyed all the time!”

Ashley Cosme, CMG Apprentice
“I love the simple color line of this pot,” says Ashley. “Sometimes going with a straightforward white and green color brings out the beauty in the textures. I have left the perennial lysimachia and the heuchera in the pot for a few years which is very budget friendly as well.”
Ashley’s recipe for planting includes one 6-inch Kimberly fern, two 4.5-inch tropical white sunpatien, three 4.5-inch euphorbia, one #1 citronelle heuchera, two 4.5-inch Niagara Falls coleus, one 4.5-inch ipomea and one #1 lysimachia. This pot gets morning sun with afternoon shade and requires a bit of extra water as the sunpatien and the fern are thirsty plants.

Lois Margolin, CMG since 2010
Lois’s raised bed garden was built by her son-in-law and includes three large containers, each 2-feet by 4, 5, and 8 feet lengths. She says the raised beds are large enough to grow enough vegetables for two people. “The raised beds work great because I don’t have to bend or get down on my knees to garden.” In the longest of the three containers she’s planted 2 rows of carrots along the front side, carrots, scallions and carrots on the back side. Other plants include bell peppers, marigolds, Early Girl tomato, Japanese eggplant and 2 cucumber plants along the edge so they trail over the side of the container.
Lois places plants close together and uses potting soil, compost and slow release fertilizer at planting time, plus a liquid fertilizer once a month during the growing season.

Anne Beletic, CMG since 2016
Anne’s container garden is composed of 7 troughs that are planted with 11 6-inch Pincushion plants, 5 2.5-inch Dusty Miller plants, Forget-Me-Not, Borage, Cornflowers (from seeds); trailing plants are Sweet Potato vines, variegated Vinca (both 2.5 ” pots).
Anne says she likes this planting because the Pincushions have been flowering for weeks, the flowers attract bees and the Borage star shaped flowers are “exquisite.” The only downside is the borage has become too big and thirsty, she says.
Anne used a good quality potting soil with slow release fertilizer at planting, waters daily and cuts back the Pincushions to the next bud. She plans to keep the Pincushions in a flower bed “as these were the only plants I spent real money on, and they should be a viable perennial in Denver.” Anne notes, “the Pincushions were the bulk of the planting until seeds grew, and so merited buying a little larger.”

Jill Fielder, CMG since 2012
Jill says she played with new types of fancy coleus, both for color and because many of these can now be successfully grown in either sun or shade. She has two of these containers on either side of her front porch. “They get different amounts of sunlight, are bright with color that doesn’t rely on big flowers or wide leaves susceptible to hail and these are (mostly) plants that aren’t all that attractive to Japanese Beetles,” she says.
Jill’s recipe includes 1 Coleus Fireworks (purple & lime), 2 Fuchsia Gartenmeister, 2 Asparagus fern, 2 Impatiens Walleriana Peach Butterfly, 1 Coleus Maharaja (red), and 2 Dragon Wing Red begonias.
This container gets dappled morning light, is on a daily drip system and was planted up with slow release fertilizer early in the season.

A Special Thank You to the seven generous CMGs who shared their gardens and tips with us. We hope this virtual container garden tour inspires you to plant something a little different in your garden next year!

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener since 2005
Photos provided by each CMG

Easy-to-Grow Container Basil

My summer garden wouldn’t be the same without a container of basil growing on the patio. Not only is basil a beautiful plant, but it’s one of the most versatile herbs around. The fresh leaves get tossed into green salads, stacked with fresh mozzarella and tomatoes for a Caprese salad, blended into pesto, and plenty more.

One packet of basil seeds means dozens of fresh summer recipes. (Photo by Jodi Torpey)

Every year I grow a container of basil so I can clip the fresh and fragrant leaves all summer. This method of container planting is one of the simplest and least expensive ways to plant basil, and it uses only one packet of seeds. My favorite is the Genovese basil because of the large leaf size.

The basil plants grow well with a limited amount of morning sun, then afternoon shade to keep tender leaves from burning.

Any container that can hold a good quality potting soil and has holes in the bottom for drainage is a potential for planting. My go-to basil container is a plastic window box that has a matching tray to catch water. Paper coffee filters cover the drainage holes to keep soil in.

Here are the three planting steps:

  1. Sprinkle (broadcast) the entire packet of seeds evenly over the top of the potting soil. Gently pat down and cover seeds with a very thin layer of potting soil.
  2. Spray the seeds and top of the soil with water from a spray bottle or plant mister. Spraying keeps the seeds on top of the soil.
  3. Spritz daily or whenever the soil starts to dry out until the little plants begin to grow. Continue gently watering the container with a watering can or hose and nozzle.

Basil seeds sprout and grow quickly. Start clipping the leaves when plants have three to five sets of leaves. Don’t worry about pruning the leaves, because that encourages healthy new growth and branching, plus it keeps plants from flowering too quickly (although the flowers are tasty, too).

Fertilize with your preferred water-soluble plant food or gently dig in a slow-release fertilizer about once a month to keep plants green and healthy.

One of my favorite quick salads is sliced garden-fresh tomatoes, topped with several tablespoons of snipped basil leaves, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt and served at room temperature.

How do you like to use the fresh basil from your garden? Please share your recipe ideas in the comments section below.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardeners since 2015

No More Buds? Turn to Earbuds.

By this time in the year, I’m at the point of good riddance! with the weeds and careful tending (shout out to this cold spell for sealing the deal). Pretty much everything is done and put to bed. I then spend the next two weeks really dialing into my houseplant game before I get bored and start Spring dreaming. My Fall break from the garden is short-lived so I start listening to old episodes of now-defunct podcast series and dream with new ones.  Here are a few of my favs:

Gardenerd Tip of The Week

Gardenerd.com is the ultimate resource for garden nerds. We provide organic gardening information whenever you need it, helping you turn land, public space, and containers into a more satisfying and productive garden that is capable of producing better-tasting and healthier food.

https://gardenerd.com/

My thoughts: The host lives in LA, so this one is great for winter listening as we get chillier, I love hearing about the warmth of Southern California and what’s coming into season. Interviews with other experts and educators in the horticulture field discussing plants, but also cultivating grains, discussing bees, and seeds. Each episode ends with the guest’s own tips, many of which are news to me and have been incorporated into my own practices. 

On the Ledge

I’m Jane Perrone, and I’ve been growing houseplants since I was a child, caring for cacti in my bedroom and growing a grapefruit from seed; filling a fishtank full of fittonias and bringing African violets back from the dead.

https://www.janeperrone.com/on-the-ledge

Houseplants, if new to the podcast start here for an overview, and guidance.

Jane is a freelance journalist and presenter on gardening topics. Her podcast has a ton of tips for beginners, and more advanced info for longtime houseplant lovers, as well as interviews with other plant experts. The website is also useful to explore the content of an episode if you aren’t able to listen. I could spend an entire morning traveling in and out of the archives. 

My thoughts: As the growing season comes to a close, my indoors watering schedule starts wobbling between what the plants need and my summer habits of watering too many times per week–welcome back,  fungus gnats! Here’s an entire episode on them

Plant Daddy Podcast

We aim to create a listener community around houseplants, to learn things, teach things, share conversations with experts, professionals in the horticulture industry, and amateur hobbyists like ourselves. We also want to bring the conversation beyond plants, since anybody with leaf babies has a multitude of intersectional identities. We, ourselves, are a couple gay guys living in Seattle, Washington, with a passion for gardening and houseplants. A lot of our friends are the same, though each of us has a different connection, interest, and set of skills in this hobby, demonstrating a small amount of the diversity we want to highlight among plant enthusiasts.

https://plantdaddypodcast.com/

My thoughts: Plants are visual, podcasts are auditory- episodic overviews with links to viewable content available on their website. Are you also seeing Staghorn Ferns everywhere? They have an entire episode (photos included!) on the fern and how to properly mount it for that vegan taxiderm look. Matthew and Stephen are self-identified hobbyists with a passion for plants all the way down to the Latin–it’s impressive.

Epic Gardening

The Epic Gardening podcast…where your gardening questions are answered daily! The goal of this podcast is to give you a little boost of gardening wisdom in under 10 minutes a day. I cover a wide range of topics, from pest prevention, to hydroponics, to plant care guides…as long as it has something to do with gardening, I’ll talk about it on the show!

https://www.epicgardening.com/

My thoughts: The Netflix-episode-when-you-just-don’t-feel-like-a-movie kind of podcast. Addresses the best varietals, composting, soil pH, and troubleshooting some common issues in the garden. With daily episodes archived back to December 2018, there is a quickly digested thought for some of your own curiosities. The website is also a wealth of knowledge. 

Eatweeds Podcast: For People Who Love Plants

Eatweeds: An audio journey through the wonderful wild world of plants. Episodes cover modern and ancient ways wild plants have been used in human culture as food, medicine and utilitarian uses.

http://eatweeds.libsyn.com/

My thoughts: most recent episode (and appropriately timed!)  On edible acorns. My fav topics include foraging and wild yeast fermentation; and when I really start missing the Pacific Northwest, The Wild and Wonderful World of Fungi sends me back to a misty forest wander politely decorated by les champignons. Posting of this pod is sporadic–only 25 episodes since 2014.

You Bet Your Garden

(no longer on air, but archives available)

 

You Bet Your Garden® was a weekly radio show and podcast produced at WHYY through September, 2018. The show’s archive is available online. It was a weekly syndicated radio show, with lots of call-ins. This weekly call-in program offers ‘fiercely organic’ advice to gardeners far and wide.

https://www.wlvt.org/television/you-bet-your-garden/

My thoughts: Host, Mike McGrath, spends much of the show taking calls and troubleshooting, reminiscent of another public radio behemoth with Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers. McGrath incorporates a lifetime of organic gardening tips with humor. McGrath features one tip to find a local “rent a goat place” (no joke) to get goats to eat the most troublesome weeds to a concerned caller considering setting much of her yard on fire.

Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden

Jennifer Jewell, the founder of Jewellgarden and Cultivating Place, achieves this mission through her writing, photographs, exhibits about and advocacy for gardens & natural history and through her weekly public radio program and podcast Cultivating Place: Conversations on Natural History and the Human Impulse to Garden, on gardens as integral to our natural and cultural literacy.

https://www.cultivatingplace.com/

My thoughts: sort of like On Being, but for gardening.

A fav episode:

If you aren’t so sure about this podcast thing, and just want a place to start, start here.

Do you really need a brain to sense the world around you? To remember? Or even learn? Well, it depends on who you ask. Jad and Robert, they are split on this one. Today, Robert drags Jad along on a parade for the surprising feats of brainless plants. Along with a home-inspection duo, a science writer, and some enterprising scientists at Princeton University, we dig into the work of evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano, who turns our brain-centered worldview on its head through a series of clever experiments that show plants doing things we never would’ve imagined. Can Robert get Jad to join the march?

https://www.wnycstudios.org/podcasts/radiolab/articles/smarty-plants

Meet the Garden Squad

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

Maureen Horton has volunteered with CSU Extension as a Master Gardener since 1999. (Photo credit: Maureen Horton)

Meet Maureen Horton

The first CSU Master Gardener Plant Sale was a small community event on a Saturday in May. Only a few hands planted seeds for the 1400 plants available that year.

Over the last 14 years, the fundraiser for Denver Master Gardeners has grown to include 25 pairs of volunteer hands planting and tending more than 7,200 fruit and vegetable plants. The sale dates are May 18 and 19 this year.

While many things about the sale have changed, there’s something that’s remained the same: the work of Master Gardener Maureen Horton. She’s volunteered every year of the sale since the very beginning. She’s taken on the important task of coordinating all the planting in the City Park Greenhouse for the plant sale.

“I love filling the pots, planting the seeds, nurturing them and watching them grow,” she said. “It’s almost like a mother thing, nurturing them and then they go away, like your children.”

Maureen Horton (left) and a team of Master Gardener volunteers get to work in the City Park Greenhouse. (Photo credit: Merrill Kingsbury)

Maureen joined the Master Gardener program around 1999, but she’s been interested in nurturing plants since she was 5 or 6 years old. Her earliest gardening memories are of walking with her grandmother and uncle to tend the family garden plot in New Hampshire.

She recalls her grandma explaining the shoveling and watering to her, as well as harvesting lettuce and “lots and lots of potatoes.”

Now her Denver garden includes xeric plants, roses and her favorite ‘Purple Cherokee’ and ‘San Marzano’ tomatoes, among others.

Maureen’s approach to her own garden is all about nurturing, too. “Once I plant it, I nurture it to its maturity with care and the proper nutrients to grow the healthiest plant possible. It’s all about loving the soil and earth.”

She must really love the soil to commit to leading the greenhouse planting effort over six months each year, from November to sale day in May.

“We start in November and go through all the seeds we didn’t use the year before,” she explained. “We’re cost conscious and want to use all the seeds we can.”

Then the what-to-grow lists are compiled. One list includes the most popular plants from the previous sale. There’s another list of plants that are researched to find new, reliable varieties to add to the sale. Because of the heat and extreme weather from last summer, heat-tolerant tomatoes were researched for this year.

That list includes favorites like ‘Yellow Pear’, ‘Red Brandywine’, ‘Burbank Slicing’, ‘Costoluto Genovese’, ‘Great White’, ‘Green Giant’, ‘Marble Stripe’ and ‘Purple Calabash’.

In addition, two new heirloom marriage tomatoes are now growing for the sale: ‘Cherokee Carbon’ and ‘Genuwine’. Heirloom marriage tomatoes are hybrids that cross two heirloom varieties to produce a tomato with the best qualities of each heirloom, plus the disease resistance and improved yields of a hybrid tomato.

Chile pepper research also figured into the list for this year’s sale. Of 23 pepper varieties, 21 are from New Mexico State University’s Chile Pepper Institute in Las Cruces.

“We’ve really babied those peppers,” Maureen said. “We’re introducing 18 new varieties of chile peppers to the sale.”

One of the new varieties is ‘NuMex Trick or Treat’. This pepper looks like a habanero and has all of the flavor of one, but with none of the heat. Another unusual pepper is ‘NuMex Twilight’ chile, an edible ornamental with peppers that mature in color from purple to yellow, then orange to red.

Once the seed order is placed, Maureen figures how many total flats of seeds to plant and the number of flats for each variety. Much of that is determined by how many benches the greenhouse allocates to the Master Gardeners for the sale.

In exchange for the space in the greenhouse and the use of a couple of their machines, the greenhouse also benefits from the help of Master Gardener volunteers.

Once the call for volunteers goes out, “people come running. It may be 40 degrees outside, but it’s 72 degrees in the greenhouse,” Maureen said. “It’s wonderful in there.”

While the planting is serious business, there’s always time for a few laughs. “We love it. There’s a lot of camaraderie and there’s a passion for it. Everyone works hard during their three hours to meet the goal of planting 40 flats.”

Once planting is complete, there’s twice weekly maintenance needed right up to the time the plants leave the greenhouse headed for the sale.

Last year the plant sale raised $36,000 to support Master Gardener programs in the community. More than half of that total came from selling the plants grown in the greenhouse.

It’s easy to imagine a high level of stress goes with the responsibility of nurturing more than 7,000 plants for the biggest fundraising event of the year.

“From doing it all these years, there’s not much stress,” said Maureen. “You have to roll with the punches. The only stress is if a flat of seeds doesn’t come up.”

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

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

Starting Seeds Indoors

It’s only January, but seed catalogs are arriving in the mail and gardeners are dreaming of summer. One way to get a head start on your vegetable garden is to start your own seeds indoors. It is relatively inexpensive to create your own seed-starting set up. In the long run you will save money because seeds are cheaper to buy than plants. If you want to take it a step further, you can save even more money by saving seeds from your favorite plants to start next year.

One of the great benefits of starting your own plants indoors is the amazing variety of seeds available at garden centers and in catalogs.  It’s great fun on a cold, snowy day to browse seed catalogs and find new and interesting varieties of your favorite vegetables to start for your garden.

Each type of seed has its own germination and growing requirements, but most seeds need to be started 6 -8 weeks before they will be planted in the ground.  To get seeds to germinate, you will need adequate light and soil temperatures above 70 degrees.  A warm sunny window may be adequate, but to ensure good germination and sturdy plants some extra help is often required. Cool soil temperatures and too little light will result in poor germination and spindly, weak plants.

To provide good light, use two four-foot florescent shop light fixtures suspended close

Shop light suspended from chain.

Shop light suspended from chain.

over the seedlings. The key to using florescent shop lights is to have one cool white and one warm white tube in each light fixture.  The combination provides the proper light spectrum for growing plants. Keep the lights on for 16 hours a day using a simple light timer. To avoid leggy, weak plants, keep the lights very close to the tops of the plants. This can be accomplished by hanging the lights from chains that you can adjust up or down.

To get the seeds to germinate you will need a warm, moist (not wet) environment. To ensure the proper environment for germination, use peat pots placed in seed starting trays with clear plastic covers.

Seed tray and clear cover

Seed tray and clear cover

The plastic covers keep the peat pots warm and moist until germination. Use a seed starting soil mix in the peat pots. Regular potting soil and soil from your garden are too heavy for starting seeds. Most seeds need soil temperatures of 70 degrees or above to germinate. To ensure adequate soil warmth, use heat mats under your seed starting trays.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Heat mat for starting seeds.

Once the seeds have germinated and are growing, the heat mats and clear covers should be removed. The trays, covers, pots, starting mix and mats are all available at local garden centers.

Partial set up showing on light fixture.

Partial set up showing one light fixture.

Two four-foot shop light fixtures placed side by side fit perfectly over two standard 10.5” x 21” seed starting trays set end to end. Each tray holds 32 – 2.5” peat pots.

As the seedlings grow, raise the lights little by little to keep them just above the plants. Water just enough to keep the peat pots moist, but not soggy. The pots should not be sitting in standing water. Too much water will lead to poor germination and weak plants. You can also use a spray bottle to mist the plants to add moisture.  Once the plants are growing and develop true leaves, a weak solution of a Miracle-Gro type fertilizer will promote strong plants. Put two or three seeds in each peat pot to make sure at least one plant germinates per pot. As the plants grow,

Trays under lights after germination.

Trays under lights after germination.

keep the strongest plant in each pot and thin by snipping the weaker seedlings near soil level.  Always snip, don’t pull. Pulling out the weaker plants can disturb the roots of the remaining strong seedling.

Happy plants.

Happy plants.

About two weeks before you plan on putting the plants in the ground, start hardening off the plants by placing them outside for part of the day. Start off slowly! The leaves will be tender and susceptible to damage from too much sun or wind.  Start with a few hours in dappled shade on a mild day. The daytime temperatures should be above 55 degrees. Day by day, the plants will become stronger and can be left out longer and in more direct sun. Do not leave them out overnight if the temperature will dip below 50. Peats pots are small and can dry out very fast.  Make sure the plants have adequate water while hardening off. One way to avoid plants drying out while they are hardening off is to transplant the seedlings from peat pots to 4 ½ inch or one gallon pots with regular potting soil. The plants really take off with the extra room and the larger pots are not as prone to drying out.

After two weeks or so, your hardy plants are ready to go into your garden.

For more information check out these publications from CSU Extension:

Plantalk 1034: Starting Seeds Indoors

Fact Sheet 7.409: Growing Plants from Seed

Fact Sheet 7.602: Saving Seed

Written by Mark Zammuto, a Denver County Master Gardener

Four Ways to Celebrate National Pollinator Week

Today’s the official start of summer and it coincides with another important annual event — National Pollinator Week. From June 20 through June 28, agencies, organizations, companies and ordinary gardeners bring attention to ways to help build healthy environments for bees, butterflies, birds, bats and other vital pollinators.

Here are four ways to celebrate pollinators this week. Please add your ideas to the list:

Million Pollinator Garden Challenge1. Register your garden on the National Pollinator Garden Network.

Become one in a million by registering your pollinator-friendly garden as part of the Million Pollinator Garden Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to register 1,000,000 public and private gardens and landscapes that give pollinators what they need: nesting sites and plants that provide pollen and nectar.

Pollinator Friendly Jacket Image2. Learn more about pollinators.

There are many free pollinator guides available if you need help deciding which plants give the biggest bang for pollinators. There’s also a new book written by a gardener for gardeners. Pollinator Friendly Gardening by Rhonda Fleming Hayes explains that no matter the size of your garden, there are dozens of good plants for helping pollinators. Her detailed plant lists simplify selecting flowers, herbs, vines, shrubs and trees.

3. Become a Habitat Hero.

Encourage more feathered friends to gather in your landscape through the Habitat Heroes program with Audubon Rockies. Apply to have your landscape recognized as a Habitat Hero wildscape. Some of the basics include planting bird-friendly native and regionally-adapted plants, reducing herbicide and pesticide use, and controlling invasive plants.

Pollinator Bee4. Plant zinnias.

A single packet of zinnia seeds will give you a summer full of color and plenty of lovely nectar-filled landing pads for bees and butterflies. Zinnias are some of the easiest annual flowers to grow whether in garden beds or containers on the patio, balcony or deck.

Please keep pollinators in mind and let’s work together to create a lot of buzz during National Pollinator Week!

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver master gardener