Category Archives: Resources

Celebrate the Unsung Insect Heroes During Pollinator Week

It’s Pollinator Week 2018, a time to show some garden love to the bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators that provide services essential to our food supply.

This year, let’s put the emphasis on other insect pollinators.

It’s easy to admire beautiful butterflies sailing effortlessly from flower to flower. We all know how important it is to provide nectar and pollen for native bees. But how many gardeners really, truly appreciate flies? How about other non-bee insects, like moths, wasps and beetles?

These less lovable insects are what some researchers refer to as the “unsung heroes of the pollination world.”

Bees certainly get the most notice for their important work, but they couldn’t do all the pollinating on their own. They need help from other less attractive insects.

In a revealing research study, one Washington State University doctoral student discovered that flies are an important pollinator, too. During her research, Rachel Olsson found that about a third of the insects visiting farm crops were syrphid flies, also known as hover flies.

These flies mimic the behavior of bees, help with pollination and do a bit more. In their juvenile stage, syrphid flies help control aphids, too.

Rachel’s research was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. She spent several years studying whether non-bee insects contribute to sustainable crop pollination on a network of 24 organic farms in Western Washington.

During her study, she learned pollinators were drawn to one type of crop over another. She had hoped to observe bee and non-bee insects interacting in a way that could improve pollination efficiency.

Still, these overlooked pollinators provide a valuable service and need to be part of conservation efforts, too. That’s why Rachel thinks the results of her research are applicable to Colorado gardeners. It’s important to understand and protect all pollinators, especially the underdogs of the insect world.

An especially useful guide is a booklet Rachel co-authored called, A Citizen Guide to Wild Bees and Floral Visitors in Western Washington. Published by Washington State University Extension, the online guide provides tools for observing and identifying wild bees and other important floral visitors.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Advertisements

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

Denver Gardeners Needed for Research Study

community gardenWould you like your gardening efforts to contribute to important scientific research? If you live in Denver and are relatively new to gardening, CAPS needs you.

CAPS stands for the Community Activation for Prevention Study. The University of Colorado at Boulder and Denver Urban Gardens are working together on a randomized controlled study to discover how community gardening affects health. Other partners include Michigan State University, the University of South Carolina and Colorado State University.

The three-year study is funded by a grant from the American Cancer Society. Gardeners are now being recruited for the second wave of the study. When CAPS ends, more than 300 gardeners will contribute to the study and help researchers understand if and how gardening can prevent serious health issues, like cancer.

Study participants will be randomly selected for one of two groups: those who grow a garden in a DUG community garden and those who are on a DUG wait list (the control group). Researchers measure both groups and compare the results based on their diets, physical activity levels and other health indicators.

CAPS is looking for Denver-area folks who are over 18 and have an interest in gardening. The participants need to be new gardeners or gardeners who haven’t been actively gardening for the last two years. Study participants will be matched to a nearby DUG community garden and their garden plot fees are covered.

Experienced Denver-metro gardeners are encouraged to spread the word about CAPS to beginning or lapsed gardeners. Find out more about the study, the investigative team, and the study’s partners at the CAPS website or get in touch with Angel Villalobos, program coordinator, at 303-724-1235 or Angel@dug.org.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

How to Enjoy a Living Christmas Tree

When considering the price of trees these days, it makes sense to buy one that offers the biggest return on investment. That’s why I’m a big fan of living Christmas trees.

A living tree is one that makes the season bright, but also adds beauty to the landscape long after the holiday is over.

Before investing in a living Christmas tree, there are a few things to keep in mind about its care:

1. Buy a tree that fits both inside and outside the house. A smaller tree will be more manageable for moving into the house for the celebration and then outside for planting. In addition, smaller sized trees will take less time to get established in the yard after planting.

2. Select the planting site and prepare a planting hole for the tree before the ground freezes. Dig a saucer-shaped hole that’s at least three times the size of the root ball. The hole should be shallow (no deeper than the root ball) and wide. Planting too deep slows root growth and can harm the tree. Be sure to reserve the soil to fill in the hole at planting time.

3. Locate a cool spot to store the tree after getting it home. Keep it in its original container in the garage or on a sheltered porch or patio until it’s time to move it indoors.

4. Unlike a cut tree, a living Christmas tree can be indoors for just a short amount of time. Plan ahead to move the tree indoors for 5-7 days around the holiday. Then move it back to the garage.

5. Place the tree in the coolest room in the house. Avoid placing it close to the fireplace and keep it away from furnace vents that cause hot-cold temperature swings.

6. Water wisely to keep the soil moist. One easy method for watering is to put the tree’s container in a larger container, like a metal tub. Elevate the tree off the bottom of the container with a layer of gravel to keep roots away from sitting water.

7. After the holiday is over, allow time for the tree to get re-acclimated to the outdoors before planting. Place it back in the garage or cool, sheltered spot for a few days. Then take it outside and plant.

CSU Extension gives all the best practices for tree planting in the Garden Notes called The Science of Planting Trees. Be sure to remove any burlap or wire baskets before backfilling the hole and watering in the tree.

Keep your new tree watered through the winter, at least once a month or more frequently if the weather is dry and warm with a lack of snow cover.

A living Christmas tree may need a little extra TLC, but it’s one of the best ways to keep the holiday spirit alive throughout the year.

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

A Poison Plant Primer for Halloween

While on a garden tour a few years ago, I crossed over to the dark side. Instead of admiring the frilly flowering ornamental plants, I spent my time inside the Poison Plant garden. 

The gate, decorated with a large iron spider in a large iron web, creaked eerily on opening and then slammed shut behind me.

The spider signified the potential dangers that grew inside that garden, like Oleander (a glycoside). This innocent-looking plant can cause respiratory difficulties and heart problems. Although this Mediterranean shrub can be a fragrant addition to the landscape, every part of the plant is poisonous when eaten. The smoke is also toxic if plant parts are burned.

Other glycosides in the garden included foxglove and lily-of-the valley.

Why would a perfectly nice botanic garden include harmful plants among the others? For the same reason so many other plants are on display: to educate gardeners and the general public.

We can’t escape poisonous plants because they can grow anywhere. Jimson weed and nightshade; soapwort and poison ivy; stinging nettle and even St. Johnswort were a few of the other plants growing in the garden.

“A recent increase in herbal usage has given rise to misuse and mistaken identities,” explained a sign near the poison garden’s entrance. “It is important to consider means of preventing a toxic encounter as well as enjoying the contributions of poisonous plants around us.”

Because Halloween is a time for delightful frights, I recommend taking a read through Amy Stewart’s entertaining book called “Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln’s Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities” (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2009).

She includes poisonous plants familiar to most gardeners, like Castor Bean, Henbane, Hemlock and Deadly Nightshade. But she also includes some surprises like Habanero Chile, Sago Palm, Tobacco, Junipers and Bermuda grass.

“We assume if it grows out of the ground, a plant is natural and natural is good for you,” says Amy. But cyanide is also a natural substance that comes from some plants, and it definitely isn’t good for you.

Speaking of deadly plants, what do you think is the world’s most wicked plant? Scroll past the following poison plant resources section to learn the answer.

Resources

A nice addition to Amy’s book is a list of poison gardens throughout the world and a well-research bibliography with many poisonous plant resources and identification guides. Here are a few links to help get you started:

CSU’s Guide to Poisonous Plants database lists trees, shrubs and perennials that can be harmful to animals.

Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has a searchable database of plants that are poisonous to livestock and other animals. The color images help with plant identification.

The University of Illinois Extension has a comprehensive list of links to poisonous plant information. 

The World’s Most Wicked Plant?
Tobacco

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardener since 2005

10 Reasons for Becoming a Denver Master Gardener

If you like to plant and grow things, you may be a Master Gardener in the making. A desire to help your community is another plus. In case you need more convincing, consider these 10 benefits of joining us and then take the next step to become a Colorado Master Gardener.

Number 10: You’ll be a better gardener. Becoming a Denver Master Gardener doesn’t mean you’ll be a perfect gardener, but at least you’ll know why the daisies died, what’s wrong with your tomato plant, why the lawn has brown spots, and what the heck is eating those roses. The CSU Master Gardener program is like getting a mini-degree in horticulture.

Number 9: You’ll help with important research. Master Gardeners are often called on to help with CSU Extension research projects. One recent project included collecting tree data as part of the Rollinger Tree Collection Survey project, a collaboration with the Denver Botanic Gardens and other partners to understand the past, present and future of Denver’s urban forest.

Master Gardeners like to meet, mingle and break crab legs together.

Number 8: You’ll meet and mingle with like-minded folks. Gardeners like to talk—and listen. Whether you’re a social butterfly or just like to belong to a tribe with similar interests, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy each other’s company.

Number 7: You can share your knowledge. People have questions and now you’ll have the research-backed information to provide answers in person at farmer’s markets and special events or by answering email questions from home. There’s a lot of gardening misinformation out there, but you can help dispel the myths (except when it comes to marijuana).

Number 6: You can volunteer in meaningful ways. Community outreach is an important part of being a Denver Master Gardener and others appreciate your contribution. The vegetables grown in the Harvard Gulch Demonstration Garden are donated to help feed the hungry; The Haven at Fort Logan offers another chance to serve others with your gardening skills.

Master Gardeners plan and plant the CSU Extension exhibit at the Colorado Garden and Home Show.

Number 5: You’ll get to work behind the scenes at the Colorado Garden and Home Show. A favorite volunteer project is being part of the annual show whether helping to build the CSU Master Gardener display or answering attendee’s questions. Free entry to the show is an added bonus.

Number 4: You can stretch your leadership skills. Being a Master Gardener lets you take the lead on a special project in a safe and supportive environment. Creativity, innovation and new ideas keep the program interesting.

Number 3: You’ll receive a well-recognized credential. Anyone who’s been paying attention has heard of CSU Extension’s Master Gardener program. The title is a well-known and well respected credential in the gardening world and in every state across the country.

Number 2: You’ll be supporting an important educational program. Becoming a Master Gardener isn’t free, but the nominal annual fee ensures the Denver Master Gardener program can continue its mission.

Being a volunteer at the City Park Greenhouse refreshes gardening skills for the new season.

And the Number 1 reason for becoming a Denver Master Gardener: Volunteering at the City Park Greenhouse.  It’s one of the most revitalizing volunteer gigs, and it happens at a time of year when gardeners need it the most.

Those are my top 10 reasons. What are your top reasons for becoming a Denver Master Gardener?

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener since 2005

When it Rains, Let’s Measure It

Nolan Doesken of the Colorado Climate Center at CSU demonstrates how to read a rain gauge.

Denver Master Gardeners had the chance to learn why Colorado’s climate can be so frustrating during an entertaining presentation by Nolan Doesken of CSU’s Colorado Climate Center.

The July program was one half continuing education on the basics of our state’s climate and one half recruiting effort for more rain gauge volunteers. Both halves are important to anyone who’s affected by Colorado’s crazy weather.

Doesken is the state climatologist and the founder of CoCoRaHS, the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network. What started as a small volunteer effort in 1998 to track and map precipitation in northern Colorado has expanded to include thousands of volunteers in all 50 states, Canada and the Bahamas.

CoCoRaHS volunteers measure and report the amount of precipitation that falls in their yards. The combined data gives a comprehensive precipitation picture that’s important to natural resource education and research.

Colorado’s early weather reports were sent by telegraph from the top of Pikes Peak beginning in 1873.

Colorado started tracking climate data in the 1870s, but that data was collected only at weather stations. Some of the first official weather measurements were on wind pressure, speed and direction.

But there’s an ongoing need for data that helps tell the weather story in more detail. The combination of Colorado’s high elevation, mid-latitude location, complex mountain topography plus our location far from the continent’s moisture sources make for a challenging climate, Doesken explained.

We can also blame those confounding 40-degree temperature swings from one day to the next on those factors, too.

Anyone who has an interest in being a citizen scientist or learning more about the weather is invited to join the CoCoRaHS network. Volunteers use high-capacity rain gauges placed wherever rain can land without interruption.

Because precipitation can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, volunteers are needed in all areas. Each time it rains, hails or snows, volunteers measure the amount of precipitation and report it on the program’s website.

The rainfall reports get used every single day, Doesken said. Even 0″ precipitation reports are important. Data users include weather forecasters, hydrologists, researchers, farmers, ranchers, engineers and many others.

Interested volunteers can learn all the details at CoCoRaHS.org. Many helpful video tutorials are available on YouTube, too.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Slow Food Helps Grow Kids

An important part of the children’s garden was helping kids connect to nature by learning about the colors and magic of fruit. Other beds were filled with all the plants needed to make salsa, a nutrient scavenger hunt and salad greens as an equation for success.

There was a lot to love about the Slow Food Nations festival in downtown Denver over the weekend.

The celebration of local, organic and sustainable foods included free food tastings offered by Slow Food groups from around the world, educational programming and vendors selling to the thousands of foodies that attended the event.

But one of my favorite displays was the children’s garden, located on the sidewalk just north of the Taste Marketplace.

In this series of raised bed gardens, kids had the chance to get their hands dirty by exploring gardens filled with fruits, vegetables, herbs, grains, and flowers.

One of the premier gardens included a sample of the modular Learning Gardens, created by The Kitchen Community. The Kitchen Community’s mission is “Community through Food” and it accomplishes that goal by building outdoor classrooms on school playgrounds around the country, including Denver and Fort Collins. There are more than 400 to date.

The customizable gardens are designed to fit into each school’s landscape and become part of the educational process. As a teaching tool, the gardens help students learn about growing and eating nutritious foods and gaining healthy habits to hopefully last a lifetime.

A bowl of dried corn and a grinder were placed next to a bed of corn plants. Kids were encouraged to try their hand at turning corn into a grain for cooking.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Low Tunnel garden bed introduced kids to the the concept of helping plants grow before and after summer. Books on year-round gardening surrounded the bed as resources for kids and their parents.

 

 

In addition to all the herbs, fruits, and vegetables, there were beds of flowers to promote planting for pollinators. A sensory garden helped kids see, smell and feel the benefits of plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Pretty Tough Plants Book Review

I love the name of the new book by the experts at Plant Select. Pretty Tough Plants describes the family of Plant Select plants perfectly.

If you’ve grown any of these beautiful plants that are so well-suited to our gardens, then you know what I mean. If you haven’t grown any Plant Select recommendations, what’s stopping you? These are the plants that can help you be a more successful gardener.

Plant Select calls itself “a nonprofit collaboration of Colorado State University, Denver Botanic Gardens, and professional horticulturists.” I call it one of the best plant testing and introduction programs in the country.

Pretty Tough Plants: 135 Resilient, Water-Smart Choices for a Beautiful Garden (Timber Press, 2017) is a follow-up to Durable Plants for the Garden: A Plant Select Guide published in 2009.

This new edition seems to be more user friendly, both by its manageable size and in the plant presentations. Plants are divided into groups that include tender perennials and annuals, petites, groundcovers, perennials, grasses, vines, shrubs, and trees and conifers.

Each Plant Select description includes its scientific name, common name, mature size, flower type, bloom time, and best features. Understandable icons give details on sun and water requirements, as well as if the plant attracts pollinators or if deer resist browsing it.

The “Landscape Use” information is meant for gardeners who have difficulty matching plants to place or are unsure of how to combine plants for the most striking effect. The descriptions make suggestions for perfect placement and the best Plant Select companions.

Many of the gorgeous, full-color images show both a close-up view of the plant and a shot of how it looks in the landscape when in full bloom. One of my favorites is Redleaf rose (Rosa glauca) shown as a fabulous specimen plant, and closeups of the star-like single pink flowers and brilliant red hips.

An especially nice feature for this volume is the Plant Reference Guide in the back of the book. This guide provides a quick resource for matching the right Plant Select plant to the right spot in the landscape.

Besides the typical categories, there are two additional and interesting categories: Special landscape use and North American roots. Not every plant has a special landscape use, but when a plant is recommended for “dry shade, cold hardy,” like Denver Gold columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha), gardeners can trust the endorsement.

Prairie Jewel penstemon (Penstemon grandiflorus) is one Pretty Tough Plant in my xeriscape.

I’ve grown many different Plant Select recommendations in my perennial beds, and I can vouch for their resilience – one of the seven qualities a plant has to have to be added to the program.

In addition to being able to stand up to a challenging climate, Plant Select plants have to thrive in a variety of conditions, be water smart, have that “it” factor, resist insect pests and plant diseases, offer long-lasting beauty, and aren’t invasive.

I can tell Pretty Tough Plants was a labor of love by a group of passionate plant people. The photo credits read like a list of area Who’s Who, from well-known horticulturists to CSU Extension Master Gardeners. Pat Hayward and David Winger had the happy task of sorting and selecting images, including many of their own.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener
(Timber Press provided a complimentary copy of Pretty Tough Plants for this review.)

Master Gardeners Heart Barbara Hyde Boardman

barbara-hyde-gardening-in-the-mountain-westWhen Barbara Hyde Boardman says she’s had the book thrown at her, she means it.

After spending 17 years with CSU Extension as a Boulder County horticulture agent, she retired and wrote the first of her gardening books, called Gardening in the Mountain West.

The publisher took issue with her manuscript because it included “too much Latin” and refused to publish it or return her original.

Because she didn’t have a copy of the book, she was relentless in pestering him for the manuscript. Then one evening he drove to her house and threw it on the front steps where it landed with a thud.

“I didn’t care,” she says. “I got my book back.”

As the first woman to graduate from CSU’s Horticulture Program in 1977, and just the second female horticulture agent in the U.S., Barbara had to learn to stand up for herself in a male-dominated agricultural industry.

Barbara, now 93 and living in Longmont, had a long and successful career with Extension even though it was tough for a woman in those days. Apparently agriculture agents didn’t think women belonged in horticulture.

Whenever there was enough money in the Extension telephone budget, she’d make long-distance calls to the other female horticulture agent so they could commiserate.

Barbara grew up in Colorado and says she always loved gardening. Her father came from an Iowa farm and her mother raised flowers so she learned gardening at an early age. She says she always had a little spot in the garden that was all hers.

“I could plant anything I wanted and some things were dreadful.”

That early start eventually led to gaining two degrees in horticulture from CSU. Working with other Extension agents around the country, she helped get the Master Gardener program off the ground. Eventually more than 500 volunteers had signed on in Boulder County before she retired in 1990, according to her bio.

In addition to Gardening in the Mountain West (published in 1999), Barbara authored three other books. The most recent is a gardening book for children and their grandparents. She also wrote weekly gardening columns for newspapers in the region and still writes for several garden club newsletters.

The second edition of Gardening in the Mountain West is a classic text on how to garden in one of the most challenging climates in the country (and it’s still available from online sellers). She dedicated it “to the volunteer Master Gardeners of Cooperative Extension. They have had a major impact on the level of horticultural excellence now achieved by the gardeners of this nation.”

Her affinity for CSU Extension and the Master Gardener program continues today. She’s contributed a tidy sum to start the Barbara J. Boardman Fund at the university.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener