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Help Your Christmas Cactus Bloom This Year

cropped-cropped-dscn05311.jpgWe’re sharing this post from 2016 again as a reminder that dark, cooler autumn nights are needed for Christmas Cactus to produce glorious blooms at the holidays. Given the right conditions now, you’ll enjoy beautiful flowers before too long. Read on for all the details!

Let me start by saying I’ve killed my share of houseplants, but one that has lived for close to three decades is the Zygocactus. Commercially, growers sell two slightly different plants as Zygocactus: the Thanksgiving cactus which has pointy edged branch segments and blooms around turkey time and the Christmas cactus which has rounded segments and blooms for its namesake. Care for the plants is essentially the same. Mine, shown above, is the Thanksgiving variety, Schlumbergera truncate.  Through periods of  neglect, inconsistent feeding and infrequent (twice maybe?) repotting, this plant keeps blooming prolifically year after year. I’ve rooted cuttings several times as gifts, but curiously, the offspring have rarely flowered in their new homes, where I might add, they get more TLC than they would living with me. This begs the question, what does this plant need to thrive and re-bloom? Here are the best tips from the experts and a few of my own observations.

  • It likes a bright, but not sunny location with temperatures that do not drop below 60 degrees.  Mine moves from indoors to an east facing screened porch from Memorial Day till Labor Day, or longer if the fall is mild like it was this year.
  •  It is a cactus which likes humidity. Unlike most cactus which prefer dry air, it hails from the tropical rainforests of South America and likes moist air. Sitting the plant on a pebble tray with water that does not touch the bottom of the pot can help, or living in a kitchen or bathroom would be ideal.
  •  It wants good drainage. If repotting, use standard, well draining potting soil. Water when it is dry just below the soil line, about once a week. I’ve  found  it amazingly forgiving if  when I forget to water. Over-watering will cause branches to rot, so more is not always better.
  • Spring and Summer are its active growth times. Prune when it is done blooming or in early summer to promote side branching. Cuttings can easily be rooted in water or soil. Adding houseplant food during the growth period helps. I have cut back branches to about six inches in the spring and the plant tripled in size by the end of the summer.
  • Here’s the key! It needs longer autumn nights to rebloom. Photoperiodism is a plant’s reaction to periods of light, similar to our circadian rhythm. Starting in mid to late September, the Zygocactus needs between nine and twelve hours of uninterrupted darkness each day in order to flower. Thanksgiving cactus take about six weeks of longer nights to sprout buds, Christmas cactus need about eight to twelve weeks.  This longer “sleep” period is the trickiest part of the reblooming process and why the porch, which is generally dark at night, works so well. Other options are to locate the plant in a similarly lit room, or  early each evening, cover it with a box or put it in a closet. Complete darkness insures maximum blooms. From experience, I’ve found that the occasional interruption of darkness reduces blooms, but will not thwart all flowers.
  • Stop the longer night process when buds emerge. The plant is now ready to flower. At this time, reduce watering slightly to promote brighter flower color.
  • Watch for bud drop. This could indicate you’ve reduced water too much. If the plant is new to you, it also could be reacting to a change in environment. Drafts or temperatures below 60 degrees may also be the culprit. I often see shriveled tiny buds at the end of the blooming cycle, as though the plant is  exhausted from the work it takes to flower for weeks on end. I found no science to support this notion, just my take on it!

Zygocactus are graceful, pretty plants, with or without blooms. Their showy, colorful holiday flowers are a beautiful treat at the end of the year. With a little extra care in the fall, they will regale you with splendid  holiday color.

Related posts:

Keeping the Ho Ho Ho in Holiday Plants

A Year in the Life of an Amaryllis

Text and Photo by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

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Tree of Heaven: Don’t Let the Name Fool You

Google Free ImageAilanthus altissima or Tree of Heaven, is a notorious, fast growing, invasive plant which left unchecked can quickly become a large shrub or substantial tree. An urban nuisance, you’ve likely seen it jumping out of cracks in sidewalks, pushing through established shrubs and lining alleys where little else will flourish. I recently found a seedling growing in the corner of my pebble-lined basement window well, a testament to its ability to survive in poor soil with little moisture.  It will grow most anywhere except very dense shade and swamps and is capable of choking out desirable plants, forming  thickets and damaging sewer lines or building foundations. The vigorous lateral root system sends up numerous suckers and the plant will also easily establish by seed. Remember the novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? The title’s tree is Tree of Heaven – aptly used as a metaphor for determination and survival.

In the late 1700’s the tree was brought to this country from China and was heralded for its rapid growth. According to the U.S. Forestry Service, a young specimen can grow 24′ in the first four years and a mature tree can easily reach 50’ or more and produce over 300,000 seeds annually.

Ailanthus altissima has several distinguishing characteristics detailed in this Colorado State University publication. Sometimes mistaken for Sumac, Tree of Heaven leaves are pinnately compound (made up of several elongated leaflets) with a glandular notched base and smooth edge. The smooth leaflet margins differentiate the plant from Sumac, which has a jagged leaf margin. When Tree of Heaven foliage is crushed it has a foul odor resembling rancid peanut butter, hence another common name, Stink Tree. Clusters of yellow-green flowers emerge in spring; later in the season, female plants produce tan to reddish, single-winged samaras or seed pods. Large triangular leaf scars are visible on the twigs and are another defining characteristic of this notorious plant.

To eliminate Tree of Heaven, vigilantly pull small seedlings by hand.  If the plant is well established, cutting it down will trigger the root system to produce an army of suckers, which in short order can result in a small colony. An effective treatment is to make numerous slashes on the trunk or drill holes into the bark and immediately apply a full strength herbicide containing Triclopyr on the openings. Waiting even longer than 30 seconds to apply the chemical renders the treatment ineffective, as the plant quickly seals the wound in the cambium layer and prevents the herbicide from reaching the root system. It can take multiple applications to kill a well established plant. As always, follow all instructions for the safe use of chemicals. Simply digging mature suckers up without the use of herbicide may be effective over time, but the bossy root system is likely to make this a frustrating and counterproductive exercise.

Additional Resources:

https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5410131.pdf

https://www.invasivespeciesinfo.gov/plants/treeheaven.shtml

https://articles.extension.org/pages/62664/ailanthus-altissima-tree-of-heaven

https://www.extension.iastate.edu/forestry/iowa_trees/trees/tree_of_heaven.html

Photo Credits:

Image 1 (seedling): Google Free Image

Image 2 (tree):  Annemarie Smith, ODNR Division of Forestry, Bugwood.org

Image 3 (flower): Leslie J. Mehrhoff, University of Connecticut, Bugwood.org

Image 4 (tree scar): Daniel Herms, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org

Written by:

Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

Species Tulips

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Colorful hybrid tulips are an iconic symbol of spring. Planted in the fall, they’ll light up next year’s landscape with their tall stems and cup shaped blooms. In subsequent years, they’re likely to decline – sending up fewer blooms, weak foliage and sometimes not bursting through the soil at all. Allowing the foliage to senesce (turn yellow, limp and easy to pull up) after the flowers fade does help supply nutrients to the bulb for the following year, but the popular tulip bulb generally does not bloom for more than a year or two. In fact, tulips in public gardens are often treated as annuals and replanted each year.

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Tulipa saxatillis   Photo courtesy of Drystonegarden.com

An alternative to the common, hybridized “Holland” tulip are  species or botanical tulips. They are native to Central Asia and other Steppe regions, areas that are climatically similar to Colorado. This group of tulips are shorter (6-12 inches tall), will naturalize, or spread each year by self-sown seeds or stolons and some varieties will send out multiple stems. Good drainage and a sunny location with room for the plants to expand are ideal. The bulbs also do well in gravelly soil and are used successfully in rock gardens.

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Tulipa ‘Little Beauty’ Photo courtesy of Google Free Images

Mid September to late October is an ideal time to plant, setting the bulbs in clumps or drifts and burying 4 inches deep or as recommended for the specific cultivar. Colors range from delicate pastels to vibrant reds and pinks, blooms can be bi-colored and foliage is often grey-green or stippled. Since the foliage is smaller and more compact, the die-back is less unappealing.

 

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Tulipa ‘Lilac Wonder’ Photo by Linda McDonnell

Species tulips can be found online and at independent nurseries, where they are sold in pre-packaged bags and found near other small bulbs such as crocus and muscari.

While I love the flashy hybrid tulip, I’m adding reliable, graceful species tulips to my garden this year too, how bout you?

 

 

 

Resources:

CSU Fact Sheet 7.410: Fall Planted Bulbs and Corms
University of Wyoming: Bulbs Well Adapted to Our Inhospitable Climate,

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

2019 Colorado Master Gardener/Colorado Gardener Applications Now Being Accepted

We are now taking applications for the 2019 Colorado Master Gardener volunteer class. We are also recruiting Colorado Gardener Certificate students who take the classes without volunteering. The application deadline is Friday, October 19th, 2018 and weekly Wednesday classes run from January 23 through April 10, 2019 from 9:00am-4:00pm. Classes will be held at Denver Botanic Gardens and Jefferson County Fairgrounds. For more information about the program, please visit our website: http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/about.shtml

If you are interested, please call 720-913-5272 or email merrill.kingsbury@denvergov.org for an application.

If you live outside of Denver, please see this link for the CO Master Gardener Program in your county: http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/ask-cmg.shtml

 

Reimagining a Denver Hell Strip

 

A typical hell strip in “Any Town USA”

The hell strip (more politely called a tree lawn) is that pesky rectangular area between the street and the sidewalk. It’s a challenging spot – surrounded by concrete surfaces which make it super hot in the summer and subject to harsh elements in the winter.  Apprentice Denver County Master Gardeners (CMG’s) Elizabeth and Daniel Neufeld challenged themselves to redesign their hell strip by working with, not against the conditions at hand. Their new strip garden incorporates xeric native plants in a creative design which complements their early 1900’s Mayfair bungalow. Here’s a step-by-step description of the project in Elizabeth’s own words.

Site Description and Preparation
The 8.5’ by 16’ site had been a weedy portion of our hell strip. This section of our lawn was never irrigated and though we used a manual sprinkler on it for years, it never really thrived. Weeds from an adjacent bed also crept in and began to take over our lawn.

In June 2017 – after talking to CMG’s at East High’s Farmers Market – we put down 5 mil black plastic over the entire area to solarize the soil and kill the weeds. In March of this year, we removed the plastic and started to work on the soil.

The top several inches of soil was relatively good. Below that, though, was hard packed clay. Based upon our classwork to become CMG’s, and discussions with other CMG’s, we knew that we wanted to create a Native, drought resistant, garden. In order to have the appropriate depth of 2”-3” of pea gravel on top, we needed to dig out the clay. MUCH harder than we anticipated.

First I took every trash can we owned (about 5), and another 3 from a neighbor, and filled them up with just the first 4-5 inches of the topsoil. Then what to do with the clay below?  You can’t put it into the regular trash bins, nor into the city’s green compost bins as  they do not accept soil, primarily because of its weight. I secretly thought I could add just small amounts of dirt weekly and they wouldn’t know the difference. Yet this wasn’t right, and would take forever. We went online and called several places about renting a dumpster, yet the smallest dumpster we could find was going to cost $500, and we’d need to get a permit from the city to place it on the street. We needed another plan.

Perhaps you’ve seen smaller, heavy plastic canvas bags in people’s front yards as they do small remodeling jobs on their homes. These “bagsters” can be bought at a big-box store, and they hold up to 3300 pounds. Once filled, Waste Management will come and collect them for a fee. So we purchased one of these, set it up on our sidewalk next to the hell strip, and completely filled it with about 4” of the clay subsoil. It was truly a Herculean task, and it weighed over a ton, literally.

After the Waste Management dump truck removed the bagster and all its contents, we then put back all of the topsoil we had previously removed. Another day of heavy lifting.

Plant Selection
What to choose, what to choose?! Thank goodness for the CSU Extension fact sheets on Xeriscaping, Low Water gardening, and Native Plants. We also had Pretty Tough Plants, a book by the experts at Plant Select. We  spent a fair amount of time at the Jefferson County Extension office xeric garden, and the Denver Botanic Gardens, and took pictures of plants we liked. We spent a huge amount of time debating which and how many plants to include. The mix and quantities of plants we decided on follow. Click images for plant names.

  • Berlandia lyrate,“Chocolate Flower” (4)
  • Agastache, “Sonoran” (2) and “Coronado” hyssop (1)
  • Delosperma, “Firespinner” and “Red Mountain Flame” iceplants (4)
  • Eriogonum umbellatum, “Kannah Creek” buckwheat (2)
  • Schizachyrium scoparian, “Little Bluestem” (3)
  • Tanacetum densum, “Partridge Feather”  (3)
  • Prunus bessyi, “Pawnee Buttes” Sand Cherry (3)
  • Amorpha fructosa, False Indigo Lead Plant (1)  not shown
  • Miscanthus sinesis  (1) not shown

Design

design
In talking with a fellow CMG apprentice, Brenda Reum – who has her own landscape firm – we decided to put a false arroyo diagonally through the rectangular site. We also wanted a few larger accent rocks, and some medium size rock around the edges. We went to a local sand and gravel company and selected some larger rocks, and got several 5-gallon buckets of mid-size rock. During this time period (late April/early May), we also went camping in Western Colorado for a week. While driving on a dirt road along the Delores River, we came upon a pile of rocks – and collected a few dozen we liked and brought them home!

After creating an outline of the arrangement of the arroyo and the planting on paper, we commenced planting. Like many a good idea, the execution was more time-consuming than anticipated.

Once the planting was complete, we used an online calculator to estimate the amount of pea gravel needed. To have 3” of pea gravel on the site as large as ours, we would need 1 ton of rock. We put a large tarp on the street adjacent to the garden and the delivery truck dumped it on top. We spent hours shoveling the gravel over the dirt, then carefully placed our ‘trophy’ rocks through the arroyo and around the edges. Some clusters of rock are near some of the plants, and we placed a piece of weathered cedar (also found during the camping trip) and a piece of ‘rust art’ in the bed.

Now
20180622_173305The bed has been in for about 6 weeks, and it’s looking great and seems to be happy. We initially watered the plants every 2-3 days for the first 3 weeks, and have now cut back to once weekly. The ice plants and partridge feather are already spreading out, the chocolate flower and hyssop have been blooming. The little bluestem has yet to fully take off, but those plants were the smallest of all when we purchased them. We left plenty of space for the eventual growth and spreading of these plants, and look forward to their ultimate size and height.

Time and Cost of Materials
It is hard to calculate the total amount of time we spent — yet it was easily 3 times more than we thought it was going to be. It was approximately 100 – 150 hours of our own labor.

We found the plants at several independent garden centers as the big box centers did not have any of these. And because of this, the cost was more than we had anticipated, too. We spent approximately $400-$450 on 23 plants.

We spent $30 on purchasing the ‘bagster’, and $120 to have it carted away. We spent $85 on the pea gravel (including delivery), and another $40 on the larger rocks we purchased. All totaled, we spent $675-$725 on the new Native garden.  We are so pleased with the results and hope to expand our collection of native plants in other parts of our garden.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your experience! If you have a question or comment for Elizabeth, she’ll respond in the comment section.

Photo Credits: Plants: Plant Select.org,  Street Image: Bing Free Images, Garden diagram and completed garden: Elizabeth Neufeld

Posted by Elizabeth Neufeld and Linda McDonnell

 

 

Espalier Tree: An Experiment

Espaliers are a beautiful addition for: a kitchen garden wall, the side of a house, plopping under window, a privacy screen or employed as yard zone divider. Espaliers take up very little space and are easily accessible for people with limited mobility, and also a fun height for children to harvest. Moreover, espalier fruit trees have surprisingly bountiful fruit production. And interestingly espaliers often live longer than more naturally grown trees/vines, including some very old specimens. These plants have the advantages of sunlight that reaches all the branches, less breakage, and importantly if planted against a wall they have the added protection against a late frost, and so potentially retain more blossoms.

 

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Photo Credit: Le Potager Garden DBG

When we first moved into our house there was a wall in a small garden that I felt needed a pear espalier. I didn’t feel brave enough (or patient probably) to start a bare-root dwarf fruit tree and establish the training from scratch. So a couple of years ticked by as I waited to win the lottery for a nursery grown one (a four tier espalier can cost over a thousand dollars). The more affordable two tier plants, that are more commonly sold, are perfect for planting under a window, but not for a taller height. To add to this, most of the nursery grafted espaliers have a different variety of fruit on each branch, which although theoretically sounds exciting can actually present aesthetic and practical issues, and not surprisingly the rootstock can dominate in time too.

My experiment was – could I take a mature sapling and train it into an espalier. I am writing this blog as I did not find the information I needed on the internet, and so I plunged ahead into the unknown and broke pretty much every gardening rule. This is an experiment that may or may not succeed.  Any input will be gratefully received! The ideas below are not endorsed by any educated gardener.

I did follow one cardinal rule: “Right Plant- Right Place”. I had my heart set on a pear tree.  But at the nursery I chose the European Stanley Plum as the “right plant”.  It is a hardy choice for Denver, and a larger tree (not a dwarf fruit- the regular espalier choice) should be alright for my wall? Moreover, this sapling had the right growth pattern, as it was fairly two dimensional and symmetrical.  This young tree also sported the required flexible branches for training. Then for the location: the eastern wall, which is bathed in sunlight but not unrelating heat was I felt this “right place”.  I followed correct planting rules! CMG How to Plant a Tree Continue reading

Growing Artichokes in Colorado

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Do you love artichokes? If so, why not add the plant to this year’s veggie garden? Globe artichoke is grown for its tender, delicious flower buds and with some TLC, will be a rewarding plant. A member of the thistle family, Cynara sclolymus is an annual in our zone 5 region, although perennial in  coastal climates with warmer winters and higher humidity. The artichoke in the grocery store was probably grown in northern California.

Planting and Care Tips

Start seeds in early winter, or plant transplants in the ground in early to mid April. Garden centers have starter plants for sale now or will very soon. Protect the plant if Spring “treats” us to a late season frost. A sunny location which gets some afternoon shade is an ideal planting site. Soil should drain well and be amended with 4″ to 6″ of compost, tilled 6″ to 8″ deep. Artichokes are heavy feeders: a 16-16-8 fertilizer can be added at the time of planting and a high nitrogen, 21-0-0, can be worked into the soil monthly thereafter. The plant needs good moisture, however, overly wet crowns will rot and invite slugs. For best success,  water with a soaker hose or drip irrigation and apply mulch to retain moisture and keep the roots cool. An occasional misting will provide beneficial humidity.  Hot, dry conditions yield fast growing but less flavorful plants that are susceptible to aphids.

Artichoke plants can get quite large – up to 4′ feet wide. Check the tag for the spacing on your specific selection. Globe is a highly rated, popular variety with fleshy chokes and excellent flavor, Imperial Star has shown good disease resistance and Romanesco has beautiful purple-tinged bracts and is less “meaty”.

Harvesting

The plant will send up one large and several small buds on a thistle-ly stem. Harvest blooming artichokewhen the buds are tight and about 3″ across. A cook’s tip is to pick chokes which are heavy for their size.  Once the bracts open, the vegetable becomes inedible. It will soon burst into an exquisite flower.

For additional information:

Colorado State University’s trial of six artichoke varieties

Utah State University’s Cooperative Extension’s publication “Artichoke in the Garden”

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

Photos courtesy of Pixabay.com, a source for royalty free images

 

 

 

Indoor Plants & Clean Air

 

Over thirty years ago, NASA began researching methods of air purification in space crafts to pave the way for long-term human space flight. The study, found here, concluded that many common houseplants are highly effective at removing toxins such as benzene, formaldehyde, ammonia, xylene and trichloroethylene. The findings have been replicated many times over. Their relevance today is unmistakable, especially given the number of man-made products which off-gas chemicals in our homes and workplaces, current energy-efficient construction practices, our focus on healthy living and concern for the environment.

The following are answers to commonly asked questions about the relationship between clean air and indoor plants.

How exactly do plants clean the air?

Plants are effective at absorbing gases through pores on the surface of their leaves. It’s this skill that facilitates photosynthesis, the process by which plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. In effect, all plants can purify the air to some extent, but some do a better job than others.

Studies show that plants can absorb many gases, including a long list of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Benzene (found in some plastics, cloth and pesticides) and formaldehyde (found in some cosmetics, dish detergent, fabric softener and carpet cleaner) are common indoor VOCs that plants help eliminate.

Plant roots and the microorganisms that live in healthy soil also absorb VOCs and other pollutants.

Which plants were used in the NASA study?

Most were common, easy to care for plants which you may have in your home or office right now. Top “air filters” included: Peace lily (Spathiphyllum wallisii), golden pothos (Scindapsus aures), mother in law’s tongue (Sansevieria trifasciata ‘Laurentii’), bamboo palm (Chamaedorea sefritzii), dracaena (Dracaena marginata), spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum), English ivy (Hedera helix), Chinese evergreen (Aglaonema commutatum). Gerbera daisies (Gerbera jamesonii) and potted mums (Chrysantheium morifolium) are also effective air purifiers, but tend to be short-lived flowering houseplants.

Can plants reduce the harmful effects of cigarette smoke in the air?

Cigarettes contain formaldehyde, one of the toxins that plants can remove from the air. However, the plant/cigarette smoke connection was not the focus of the NASA study. A 2010 study by the American Society of Horticulture Science found that ferns were among the most effective plants in formaldehyde removal.  Check out the study for specifics on which ferns offer the best results.

Do I need to live in an indoor jungle to reap benefits?

Hardly! Studies found that approximately one 6″ to 8″ pot per 100 square feet, or 15-18 plants per 1800 square foot house makes a measurable difference.  The more vigorous the plant, the more pollutants it will draw from the air.

 

Photo credits: Bing free images

Written by: Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

 

 

 

 

How to Read a Seed Packet

seed packetsIf you can read and follow instructions, you can grow a garden.

Most seed packets have all the information a gardener needs to plant and grow whatever seeds are hidden inside. Whether you want to plant flowers, herbs, fruits or vegetables, let the seed packet be your guide.

Instead of falling for the picture on the front of each packet, study the back, especially the number of days to harvest for fruits and vegetables. Our area has a limited number of days for growing each season, and the fewer the days to harvest (especially for tomatoes), the more success you’ll have.

Here’s the most important information seed companies want you to have — and to use:

Plant name–Both the common name, like Bloomsdale Longstanding spinach, and the scientific name, Spinacia oleracea.

Type of plant—Types can include heirloom, hybrid, organic and other identifiers.

Plant description—The description includes basic information on whether the plant is an annual, biennial or perennial and some of its key features. The plant’s history, height and width may also be included.

Packed for date—Seeds are packed for and sold by the current year; however, seeds packed for previous years are usually good to plant for several years.

Planting time—Planting time depends on weather conditions for a specific area. Some packets include hardiness zone maps with a month or a range of months for planting.

Seed packets will also give information on whether to start seeds indoors or to plant seeds outside.

  • Start seeds inside according to the packet’s recommendation, usually 6-8 weeks before the average last frost date.  CSU Extension offers a guide to frost dates to help with garden planning. Avoid planting seeds too early.
  • Plant seeds outdoors after the soil has dried and warmed to the optimum soil temperature. A CSU Extension handout and a kitchen or digital thermometer will help determine when to plant specific vegetables. Planting too soon or too late could be a reason some seeds fail to sprout.

Light needs—The amount of sunlight plants need from full sun to partial shade. Most fruits and vegetables need at least 6 hours of sun every day.

Row spacing—The amount of space between rows allows enough space for plants to grow without being crowded.

Planting space—Spacing is also critical between individual plants. Spacing may include how closely to plant seeds and how to thin the plants once they start growing.

Seed depth—Use a ruler or other guide and follow seed depth recommendations. If seeds are planted too deep, they may have a hard time reaching the top of the soil.

Days to sprout or germinate—Keep track of germination dates so you’ll know the timing of when plants start to grow. If seeds fail to sprout, replant seeds and they should catch up quickly.

Days to harvest (or mature)—For vegetables, the harvest dates will vary depending on the variety or cultivar. Harvest fruits and vegetables when they’re at their peak and avoid leaving vegetables on plants too long.

Special information—Depending on the seeds and seed company, there may be growing notes, staking information, fertilizer recommendations, suggestions for cutting or harvesting, recipes and other tips for success.

By following the seed packet instructions, gardeners can guess less and get more enjoyment from their gardening experience.

By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener

Five Nature Activities to Do With Children in Winter

Want to share your love for nature and plants with children this winter? Here are five activities to spark curiosity, teach and amuse.

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Adopt an insect-eating plant. The Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula) is fascinating to watch as it traps spiders and insects for its meals. This animation explains the process.

BoyWithWormBin

Start a worm farm. It’s a fun way to learn about the composting process and add to the garden later in the year. All that’s needed is a plastic lined or wood box with a lid, vegetable scraps, shredded newspaper and a few red wriggler worms. Kept moist and cool, the worms will get to work making valuable compost.  Find full instructions here.

FairyGardenPeekInside-e1403316493327-2Plant a terrarium or fairy garden. Assemble a collection of small plants in an open-topped container or create an imaginative, kid-friendly scene with structures and characters – perhaps a park for superheroes or dinosaurs! Children love to play in the dirt, so this makes for great hands-on learning of planting basics. Stick to easy to grow, petite plants and add a bottom layer of pebbles if using containers without drainage holes. pineconebirdfeeder-1

Feed the birds. Gather some pine cones and tie a string to the top of each, slather with peanut butter, then roll in bird seed. Hang in a nearby tree and watch the feast begin.

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Sprout an avocado pit. Stick the perimeter of an avocado seed with toothpicks and suspend it, rounded side down in a glass of water. Watch for roots followed by a green shoot. Avocado is a fast growing plant and will soon need to be transplanted into soil.

What nature activities do you do with children?

Images:  Bing Images (Royalty Free)

Written by: Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener