Category Archives: Annual plants

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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

 

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.

Seed School

You may be familiar with the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa. As a member you can buy or exchange seeds with other members.  They encourage heirloom seed saving.  You can grow the same variety of Hollyhock or Sunflower that your grandmother grew because people have saved the seeds and passed them along for other gardeners to grow.  seeds

A relatively new organization is the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance.   The founders of the Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance spoke at the Denver Botanic Gardens in September 2015 – “Seed: the Future of Food”.   Seeds saved from successful plants are uniquely adapted for the local environment which makes local or regional seed groups important.

Both of these organizations offer “Seed Schools” where they teach best practices in seed harvesting and preservation.   The Rocky Mountain Seed Alliance offers webinars on seeds and has a seed school in Aurora, CO in August 2016 

If you want to see some interesting videos about International Seed Banks see my earlier post on this site.

Seed Research in Fort Collins, CO

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrives a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Staff at the National Seed Storage Laboratory in Fort Collins, Colorado, preserve more than 1 million samples of plant germplasm. Here, technician Jim Bruce retrieves a seed sample from the -18 ºC storage vault for testing.
Photo by Scott Bauer.

The Plant Germplasm Preservation Research Unit, is part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS).   The  National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation (NCGRP) is in Fort Collins, CO.  They collect, store, test and research  both plant and animal genetic resources.

The National Seed Storage Laboratory is part of the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

The seed storage lab “opened in 1958 and was expanded in 1992. • Seeds are packaged in moisture proof foil bags for cold vault storage (-18°C; 0°F). • Cryogenically (liquid nitrogen, -196°C; -320°F) stored seeds are sealed in polyole n tubes.”

“The testing and storage protocols developed at NCGRP are shared with other researchers and genebanks and our expertise is used worldwide.”  “Seeds are evaluated for viability (tested for germination or dormancy) before and during storage”.

They recently sent seed to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway which “included a wild Russian strawberry that an expeditionary team braved bears and volcanoes to collect.”

Field collection of seeds can be a very adventurous scientific career.  Collecting seed from your own garden is usually less exciting — but equally important.  I hope you saved some from last year for use in your garden this year.  Please subscribe to this blog for continuing stories about seeds.

Keeping the Ho Ho Ho in Holiday Plants

holiday plantsHoliday tables just wouldn’t be the same without a few blooming plants to add to the festivities. While poinsettias are the most popular of the flowering houseplants, there are plenty of others plants with colorful foliage that make nice gifts – either for you or someone else.

If you take a few minutes to learn about your plant’s specific needs, you’ll be able to keep those beautiful flowers blooming into the New Year.

One of the top tips for holiday plants is to either remove the container’s foil wrapping or poke holes through the foil on the bottom. This step improves drainage and helps keep plant roots healthy. Be sure to place the container on a plant dish or saucer to catch water runoff. Dispose of any water that remains in the saucer after the plant gets a good drink.

PoinsettiaPoinsettias prefer to be kept in a cool area. Place your poinsettia plant near a bright, sunny window, but keep flowers and leaves from touching the glass. One of the most important care tips for poinsettias is to give the plant some humidity to help hold its leaves. Spritz lightly with water every day or place the plant’s container on a gravel-filled saucer that’s filled with water. When the top few inches of soil dries, water with a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer. This step helps keep flowers on the plant longer.

CyclamenAnother popular holiday plant is a Cyclamen. These plants can be kept in full bloom for weeks with the right care. Plants need sun, but not intense sunlight, and temperatures from 60-65 degrees during the day; cooler at night. Watch for flower buds that start at the crown, and be sure to keep the crown dry. It’s best to water slowly and deeply near the edge or rim of the container. Water only when the top inch of soil is dry or if the plant starts wilting. Remove flowers as soon as they fade and clip off any leaves that turn yellow. Fertilizing every 3-4 weeks will encourage the plant to keep sending out flower buds.

HydrangeaHydrangeas make for a beautiful holiday display because of their showy and ornamental blooms. To keep hydrangeas blooming indoors, place them in bright, but indirect light. Like most houseplants, hydrangeas need to be kept out of the way of cold drafts and blasts of hot furnace air. Keep soil moist, but not soggy, while plants are in bloom. Apply a diluted liquid houseplant fertilizer every other week.

Christmas cactusMy favorite flowers for the holidays grow on Christmas cactus plants. The trick to keeping these delicate-looking flowers longer is to place plants in cool locations that have indirect sunlight. A consistent temperature that keeps plants away from cold drafts and blasts of hot furnace air will keep flowers and flower buds on the plant longer. Christmas cacti like a drier soil, but avoid wilting by watering when the top 1 inch of soil feels dry. Use a standard houseplant fertilizer to keep plants healthy.

Do you have any tips or tricks to keep your holiday plants looking good? Please add them here!

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver master gardener

New Ideas from Landscape Winners

The Noelridge Park Gardens in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, won the top prize for mid-sized gardens. Image courtesy of All-America Selectsions

The Noelridge Park Gardens in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, won the top prize for mid-sized gardens. (Image is courtesy of All-America Selections)

If you’re thinking of refreshing your landscape next gardening season, you might like to see the 2015 winners of All-America Selection’s Landscape Design Contest. These award-winning gardens are sure to inspire you to create your own winning landscape.

All-America Selections (AAS) is North America’s oldest independent testing organization for trialing new plants. Every year AAS announces new varieties of bedding plant and vegetable plant winners that are known to grow well in certain regions or across the country.

In 2012 the organization started a landscape design contest among its nearly 200 open-to-the-public display gardens. The challenge is to use the plant winners in new and interesting ways. This year’s winners certainly met that challenge.

AAS announced the winners in three categories, based on the gardens’ number of annual visitors. Each garden must have at least half of the landscaped area planted in AAS winners and follow a common theme. This year’s theme was Geometry in the Garden. To see all of the contest winners, visit the AAS website.

The first-place winner in the category of 10,000 visitors a year is a design called What’s Your Angle at the gardens at Kishwaukee College, Malta, Illinois. The college’s Horticulture Department collaborated with the math department to create planting beds in different geometric shapes. The college made the most of the contest by inviting student clubs to use the gardens for projects.

The Noelridge Park Gardens was a collaboration of the local parks department, Goodwill and the Friends of Noelridge. (Image courtesy of All-America Selections).

The Noelridge Park Gardens was a collaboration of the local parks department, Goodwill and the Friends of Noelridge. (Image courtesy of All-America Selections).

In the category of 10,001 to 100,000 visitors, the first-place winner is Noelridge Park Gardens, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Besides designing a beautiful garden, the group got the community involved and played host to many groups through the season.

The large garden winner (over 100,000 visitors annually) is Norseco at the Botanical Garden of Montreal in Canada. According to AAS, this garden had a “fantastic interpretation of the geometry theme and stunning displays.” The design included a triangular flower bed and vegetable beds filled with color and texture.

The AAS Display Gardens in Colorado can give gardeners plenty of ideas for adding bedding and vegetable winners to their landscapes, too. The gardens include:

  • CSU’s Annual Flower Trial Garden, Fort Collins
  • Denver Botanic Gardens, Denver
  • Happiness Gardens, City of Wheat Ridge
  • Horticultural Art Society Demonstration Garden, Colorado Springs
  • Hudson Gardens & Event Center, Littleton
  • Welby Gardens, Denver

Now’s the time to start planning either a landscape redesign or a trip to visit some of these award-winning display gardens.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener

Pass-Along Plants

Many plants in my garden came from the gardens of friends.  I call these pass-along plants.
The Ginnala maple in my back yard is turning red and today the leaves are blowing off. This tree came from Virginia’s yard as a “stick” not quite 1 foot tall.  I managed to over-winter it for a few years on my back porch, moving it to a larger pot as needed.  Now it provides a hiding place and a launching pad for the little birds that eat at my bird feeder.  Ginnala Maple
Also in my back yard is the rhubarb plant that Patti brought back from her parents’ farm in Iowa.  It has done well here, in Denver.
The walk to my front door is lined with Maximilian sunflowers. These tall, happy perennials came from Jane’s yard. They tend to spread on their own, which makes them a good pass-along plant.
Perennials that spread and self seeding annuals are wonderful gifts if the giver warns the next gardener about the plant’s habits.

The story of the pass-along plant can live on after both gardener and garden are gone.  Take a minute to remember or to plan the pass-along plants in your garden.