Category Archives: Balcony Gardening

Vegetable Growing Tips for Beginning Gardeners

New to vegetable gardening? We’re here to help!

A group of experienced CSU-Denver Master Gardeners answered the call to help new vegetable gardeners plant and grow their first gardens. These tips cover most of the basics for the best chance of success growing fruits, vegetables and herbs this season.

Their advice covers how to get your garden started, what to plant, when to plant, where to plant, how to care for your garden and a primer on growing tomatoes.

John Ashworth

John H. Ashworth, Master Gardener since 2014, shares his thoughts on various veggies that do well in Colorado vegetable gardens:

Radishes are the ideal crop to start with, especially if you get your kids involved. Radishes emerge very quickly, even in cold soil, and are ready for eating in 30 days or less.

Carrots can do well here, but can struggle if you have heavy clay soil in your garden. Before you plant in clay soil, mix in a healthy dose of play sand and mix in well. This will allow the carrot roots to grow down without extensive use of a garden fork for cultivating. Plant the shorter, stubbier carrot varieties, Nantes and half Danvers, if you have heavy soil.

Basil seeds can be started indoors under lights or in a sunny window, but  DO NOT plant them outside too soon!  Wait until early to mid-June. Basil grows well in containers — I plant ten basil plants in a large pot and get enough to make pesto all summer long. Be aware that Japanese beetles love basil, so pick the beetles off the plants early each morning.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders and like rich soil. Add compost and fertilizer (either well-rotted steer manure or a balanced chemical fertilizer) to the planting hole. Fertilize every few weeks. Because our climate is dry and lacks humidity, some tomato varieties, like large beefsteak tomatoes, tend to split open prematurely. Instead, try Sungold cherry tomatoes, Early Boy or Early Girl varieties, or any of the heirloom varieties such as Brandywine,  or the Eastern European varieties such as Black Krim or Polish paste tomatoes.

John’s final piece of advice: Above all, have fun!

Mary Carnegie, Master Gardener since 2002, is also the Garden Leader for the Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) Park Hill School garden. Her top three tips for new gardeners are concise and to the point:

1. Be willing to get your hands dirty; stick your finger in the soil to see if plants need water.

2. Know the “safe” planting dates; don’t plant too early. (CSU Extension’s Vegetable Planting Guide can help with planting dates.)

3. Learn as much as you can about watering and mulching. (CSU Extension’s Watering Guide and Mulches for Home Grounds are two good resources.)

Rikki Hanson

Rikki Hanson, Master Gardener since 2014, says something that stuck with her as a beginning gardener is that “Colorado gardeners do it for the challenge. Lucky for me, I like a challenge.” To meet that challenge, she advises to start small.

1. Start with a few veggies that you enjoy eating. Have a mix of things that grow quickly and slowly, that way you can enjoy the fruits of your labor sooner while you wait for the big-ticket items. Radishes and lettuces are great fast-rewards foods.

2. Make a plan for watering: early in the morning or after 6 pm. This is especially important when you have seeds and seedlings. We have a very dry climate that lends itself nicely to mulch.

3. Find the joy in your own plot of Earth. Vegetable gardening is something to be enjoyed and to help you destress!

Jill Fielder

Jill Fielder, Master Gardener since 2012, is happy to share her trio of tips:

Tip 1:  Many vegetable plants need sunlight to grow sturdy and strong. Planting  sun-worshiping  vegetables like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and eggplants in less than full sun (about 6-8 hours of sun) sets one up for heartbreak. Tomato plants aren’t going to be vigorous and productive in 3 or 4 hours of sun no matter how much you will it. If you don’t have adequate sun in your space, choose plants that will thrive in partial sun (3-5 hours) such as lettuces, chard, spinach, scallions, kale, beets, Asian greens and radishes. In Colorado basil, thyme, chives, mint, oregano and parsley grow beautifully with just morning sun.

Tip 2:  Find a place for bunching onions or scallions (also called Welch onions, spring onions and green onions). These onions are super easy, speedy and fun. They can be grown from seed or slender starts from the nursery. Choose the customary white variety or scoop up the pretty deep red ones if you can find them. Plant in mid spring and you can eat the greens during the summer (snipped into eggs, stir fries and salads) and harvest the whole onion plants in the fall. Left in the garden, they’ll usually overwinter.

Tip 3:  Start seeds for ruffled, loose leaf lettuces outdoors early, even if there will likely still be frosts and maybe snow. Lettuce seedlings are remarkably tough. Depending on the lettuce variety, leaves can be ready in 40-55 days. Don’t let your precious garden space go unused in the spring!

Elizabeth Gundlach Neufeld

Elizabeth Gundlach Neufeld, long-time gardener and Master Gardener since 2017, reveals her 8 tips for tomato growing. These are the key points she wishes she would’ve known years ago when it comes to planting tomato seedlings:

1. Choose seedlings that are strong and relatively straight.

2. Harden off all seedlings for a good week after purchasing. “Hardening Off” means leaving them outside, in a sheltered location, with little exposure to the elements. Be sure to water the seedlings to keep moist before planting.

3. When ready, plant tomatoes in a trench. Cut off all the leaves and small branches EXCEPT for the top 2 inches. Plant the rest sideways in the trench. Those fuzzy little hairs on the stem will become roots! Planting the tomatoes more-or-less horizontally will produce greater numbers of roots and lead to a stronger plant.

4. Here’s the hard part. For the subsequent 3 weeks, remove ALL the flowers. Doing this allows the plant to spend its energy producing a strong root system. I sometimes compare this to humans in the following way: Although, say, young teenagers may be physically possible to bear children, they are not ready to. Similarly, the tomato plant needs to mature in the ground before producing tomatoes.

5. Pinch off all ‘suckers’ in indeterminate varieties. Suckers appear in the crotches of the tomato branches and can harm the overall plant by weakening the main stem.

6. Stake or cage the plants! Because you’ve trench-planted and picked the blossoms, the main stock will be thick and able to support many more tomatoes.

7. Water tomatoes ONLY at the bottom at soil level, trying not to wet any leaves. Keep only moderately moist. They will likely not need watering every day.

8. Enjoy the harvest!

A big thank you to John, Mary, Rikki, Jill and Elizabeth for generously sharing their hard-won secrets to vegetable-growing success.

Of course, Master Gardeners are available to answer specific questions through the Denver Master Gardener Helpline at 720-913-5278 or email denvermg @ colostate.edu. Also, please take a minute to review the list of Free CSU Extension Spring Gardening webinars and our new Grow & Give program.

By Jodi Torpey, Master Gardener since 2005
Photos provided by each gardener

Meet the Garden Squad—Gardening Help at the Denver Botanic Gardens

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

Meet the Gardening Help Volunteers

The CSU Extension Master Gardeners usually pick up the gardening helpline at the Denver Botanic Gardens or answer questions when people walk-in the door. Even though buildings at DBG are closed for now, gardeners can still get their gardening questions answered by Gardening Help from Colorado Master Gardeners at Denver Botanic Gardens, only remotely.

The interest in gardening has soared ever since people have had to hunker down at home and find ways to keep busy. First-time gardeners will likely have questions on how to get started, what to plant now, what can grow in containers, and much more.

Even gardeners with some experience have questions, too. All gardening questions can be emailed to gardeninghelp@botanicgardens.org and a CMG, working remotely, will reply by email.

Gardening Help volunteers include: Back row, left to right: Jan Fahs, Jan Davis, Ken Zwenger, Mark Zammuto, Gordon Carruth, Fran Hogan
Middle row: Lynne Conroy, Harriet Palmer Willis, Kathleen Schroeder, Leona Berger, Cindy Hanna, Mary Adams, Nancy Downs
Kneeling: Dee Becker, Charlotte Aycrigg, Jan Moran
Not pictured: Mary Carnegie, Linda Hanna, Maggie Haskett, April Montgomery, Ann Moore, Kathy Roth, Amy White

Gardening Help is a project of the CSU Extension-Denver Master Gardeners at the DBG. Volunteers provide reliable and research-based information to thousands of home gardeners each year.

Volunteers commit to at least one year in the role, with a minimum of six shifts spread across the year. The commitment starts early in the year with an orientation and training from Nancy Downs, project coordinator.

Many volunteers are GH regulars and they return to the project every year. In addition to being an active CMG, they have to satisfy DBG volunteer requirements, too. That means they’re a member of the DBG and enrolled there as a volunteer.

Some of the key characteristics of GH volunteers are good research, plant identification and diagnostic skills. Because the project is located at DBG, volunteers need to keep on top of what’s blooming at the DBG by season, so they can answer common questions that might pop up.

Photo provided by Nancy Downs

Text by Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

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

 

Balcony Gardening – Grow A Salad Bowl

Now is a good time to plant baby lettuce, spinach and micro-greens for early Fall harvest.  You do not need a deep container to grow salad greens and you can grow the greens from seed.  Covering the potted seeds with loose plastic wrap holds the moisture and heat and encourages sprouting.

Growing Container Salad Greens:  “You will be able to harvest your first crop in just a few short weeks, using the small tender leaves that are often not available to buy. These micro-greens are the mix of choice for gourmet salads. Leafy greens also make a flavorful addition to sandwiches or wraps.”

Salad greens

Radishes also mature quickly.  Use radish greens instead of basil in your pesto recipe.Radishes

As a container gardener you can quickly move your salad bowl inside if we get a sudden Colorado frost.  In a sunny window you can keep growing salad all winter.

If you need an incentive, a CSU Extension publication lists the nutrients in different salad greens and has notes about taste.  It has great photos — I can now identify Mizuna.  Enjoy!

Balcony Gardening – Green Walls

First it was “Green Roofs” now it is “Green Walls” or Living Walls.   You can create an outdoor Green Wall on your balcony.

a couple of trellis, anchored in a pot of dirt against one of your balcony walls. Depending on the amount of light you could grow flowering vines in the summer then plant peas in early spring.

metal shelving or a bookcase against the wall with planters on each shelf.  If your balcony is shady your “wall” can be made up of indoor plants – philodendron or other trailing plants.

– there are more sophisticated systems of hanging Green Wall “pockets” that look kind of like a magazine rack or sets of pots that can be attached to a wall in rows.   You could have edible plants like herbs and lettuce which require very little soil.  An internet search on green wall gardens will show you many options. 

As always, weight, water and building rules remain considerations for any system attached to the wall.  Ask before you invest.

Visit a local green wall.   “July Walking Tour – Sensory Garden’s Green Wall” by Angie Andrade Foster, Senior Horticulturist, Denver Botanic Gardens.

Colorado State University has a residence hall with an indoor green wall.  It is the Pavilion at Laurel Village.   An internet search will yield a variety of stories and photos.

Send me a comment and let me know where you find other indoor or outdoor Green Walls in Denver.

Balcony Gardening – Succulent Gardens

The Summer Solstice is past, Fourth of July is coming up. What if you forgot to water the flowers, the vegetable plants did not get enough sun and then it hailed!

Denver Botanic Gardens - Succulent Garden

Denver Botanic Gardens – Succulent Garden

There is a succulent garden for all budgets and all spaces:

–  buy individual cactus and arrange the pots on a tray a quick solution and many can become house plants at summer’s end.

– many garden centers have succulent gardens ready for purchase, ask how to care for them

–  buy annual or perennial rock garden plants and create your own using a shallow container, cactus type potting soil and gravel

– Winter-hardy cactus could be an option for your balcony

Plant Select Petites  has “Garden Treasures for Small Spaces” and a lot of suggestions for plants, planting and maintenance.

Pay attention to where you buy your plants.  If they were indoors they will do best  in a shady location.  If they were outside in full sun they will enjoy a sunny balcony.

If a cactus or succulent looked sunburned that is very possible if it was too much sun too soon.  Put your succulent garden in a part sun, part shade location to begin.  Even a cactus can get sunburned.       

 When in doubt – don’t water.  Too much water will cause the roots to rot and the damage is hard to spot until it is too late.  (I’ve had succulents surprise me by just falling over!)

The internet has lots of information on succulent gardens.  If all this sounds like a better project for next month, then a few pots of red, white and blue petunias is a cheerful alternative.  Enjoy!

Balcony Gardening – Soil, Light and Plants

French Tarragon 1 year after planting in container

French Tarragon 1 year after planting in container.

Time to plant your balcony garden

Soil for container plants is easy to find. Don’t use “Top Soil”. It is likely to be mostly clay and too heavy for your balcony use. Potting soil (with or without time release fertilizer) will be just fine.

If you buy plants – fit them tightly into the pot.  You will have a nice showy pot and it is unlikely that they will outgrow the space over the summer.  If you plant seeds, don’t put the pot in full sun.  Keep seeds moist until they germinate by covering the pot with plastic wrap to keep the soil from drying out and

How much sun your balcony gets will determine your choice of plants.   Don’t forget reflected light from nearby buildings.  Your balcony may receive direct sun only in the morning, but also receive reflected light from the building next door in late afternoon.  This article lists 5 ways to categorize sun and shade for choosing plants (about 2/3 down into this article is the list). More information is there is you want the details. 

Vegetables:  most container vegetables like full sun but may need shade from reflected afternoon light or direct afternoon sun.  Vegetables need to be checked every day to see if they need water – many will, especially when putting on fruit.   Recommended Container Vegetables are listed by type and by name.

Herbs:  Basil is a standard and will probably need water daily in hot weather.  Try cilantro or a chocolate mint plant.  Most perennial herbs grow well in containers and may survive the winter.  Good choices are  French Tarragon, any of the Thyme varieties, Winter Savory, Chives.  Here is more information about Growing Herbs in Containers.

Flowers:  If you would like to screen the view from your balcony – plant tall annuals.   An 8 inch deep pot is best.  All of these grow easily from seed:  sunflowers, cosmos, morning-glory (add a trellis for it to climb).  Amaranth is a grain ( not very edible) and grows 6 feet tall!  Look for the burgundy variety.