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Meet the Garden Squad–Renata Hahn

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

Renata Hahn is a Denver native and a CSU-Extension Master Gardener for Denver County. (Images courtesy of Renata Hahn)

If you ask Renata Hahn to describe herself, she’ll say simply, “I’m a gardener.” But how many gardeners do you know who have been confronted by a Secret Service agent or scolded by a former first lady?

All that happened when Renata was one of the gardeners working at the retirement home of President Gerald Ford in Beaver Creek, Colo.

“The place was crawling with Secret Service and I was quietly walking around the house one day when I surprised a Secret Service agent and he pulled his gun on me,” she said.

“All I had was a dandelion digger and pruners in my hands, then we laughed about it.”

She also had a memorable encounter when former First Lady Betty Ford criticized her for cutting back dead daffodil foliage too soon. (It wasn’t too soon, Renata noted.)

Renata is a CSU-Extension Master Gardener for Denver County. She’s one of the few Denver natives, having grown up in the Washington Park area before it became Washington Park. She remembers playing in the street because there wasn’t much traffic then. She also recalls her parents making her help in the garden. “I did not like it,” she said.

She left Denver and spent time in Vail and then moved to Alaska before returning to Colorado about 15 years ago. That’s when she started her small landscaping company called Ladyscapes.

“I don’t do irrigation or hardscapes. I just like to do the pretty things” of gardening. Some of that includes planting annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees. Lately she’s encouraged her clients to include more fruit trees and edible gardens.

Goji berry shrubs produce bright red superfruits and would make a beautiful hedge if grown along a wooden fence.

Her own landscape serves as inspiration, especially because she grows lesser known plants that are good for you. Some of  her plantings include honeyberries, blueberries (grown in a buried pot of peat moss), goji berries, aronia berries, borage and a rosemary plant that she’s successfully overwintered for about 10 years.

That’s in addition to garlic, edamame, kale, potatoes, cape gooseberries, and raspberries planted in a 15-gallon buried container to keep canes from spreading.

Her approach to gardening is to “let things go and see what happens.” If it’s her yard, she might pull up a plant that’s not performing; if it’s a client’s landscape, she gives them whatever they want, although she tries to point them in the right direction.

Renata is a beekeeper and this year raised butterflies indoors.

In addition to being a gardener, Renata is a beekeeper, and she tried something else this year: raising Monarch and Black Swallowtail butterflies in a separate enclosure in her house.

“They complete the life cycle in one month and become butterflies in the house and then I release them outside. It’s super fun and easy and really quiet,” she said.

Becoming a Master Gardener

In 2005 Renata attended the CSU-Extension Master Gardener class and became a Certified Gardener.

“In taking the classes I found out how much I loved it and the program,” she said. With a little more work she was able to switch to become a Master Gardener.

Although she said she feels “very lucky and insanely proud” of being a Master Gardener, she was uncomfortable in the role during her first few years.

To gain more confidence in her skills, she’d stand at the CSU Extension-Master Gardener table at farmers markets, listen to questions from the public and grab the big green notebook to research the answers right on the spot.

Crocus bulbs are drought-tolerant and the saffron threads make beautiful, delicious meals.

Renata also credits three experienced Master Gardeners, Carol Earle, Carol Amy and Jeanne Najar, for helping guide and support her during those early years.

She repays that help by volunteering to be a mentor for those Master Gardener apprentices who are just getting started. Renata said one of the best things about being a mentor is getting to take the classes again – plus she has the chance to get to know and bond with the mentees.

“I’ve been lucky to be a mentor five or six times, and I still keep in touch with all the apprentices,” she said.

Because she understands the 2020 class of Master Gardener apprentices may feel disconnected because of social distancing, she’s offering to help anyone who needs it.

“I’d like apprentices to know that if they want to call me, I’ll try to help if I can. I want people to feel included.”

To get in touch with Renata, login to the Colorado Master Gardener Volunteer Management System (VMS) and look for her name and contact information listed on the Member Roster.

By Jodi Torpey
Master Gardener volunteer since 2005

Planting in Summer’s Heat

Without fail, every year I find myself adding plants to the perennial garden during the hottest part of the season. Sometimes the plant is  a gift from a friend’s yard, other times it’s a couldn’t resist variety at the garden center. Given this spring’s quarantine, trips to the nursery were delayed and even now are limited, somehow making the visits even more special.  

I seem to always be able to find room for another perennial, telling myself it is the one that will complete the garden (are gardens ever really finished?). Or perhaps it will perfectly fill an empty space, bloom when others have faded, add the ideal color, or supply needed texture.  Whatever the rationale, how could it not come home with me? 

Here are a few pointers for successfully establishing herbaceous perennials when summer’s heat, arid conditions and drying winds present challenges. While these best practices are important, equally critical is the gardener’s diligence and consistency. Plants are less forgiving at this time of year and may not recover if ignored.  Conversely, they’ll respond well with a little extra TLC.

  • Choose plants that love the heat and adapt to our semi-arid climate. Native plants and Plant Select® offerings are good bets.
  • Plant in the evening so plants have the cooler nighttime and early morning temperatures to acclimate.
  • Prior to planting, coat  the roots with mycorrhizae (my cor rye zay), a fungus which stimulates healthy root development and improves absorption of moisture and nutrients. Several companies market this ingredient under different names.
  • Remove buds and blooms, which allows the plant to put more energy into establishing roots and foliage.  Admittedly, sacrificing the blooms is hard, but it does help reduce transplant shock.
  • Unless there has been a soaking rain, water daily for the first week or two to avoid dehydration and transpiration.  Watch the plant for the remainder of the season to determine good watering practice. 
  • Apply mulch around the plant, stopping within a few inches of the crown. Mulch will cool the soil and reduce evaporation.
  • Tent the plant with shade cloth during the hottest part of the day.
  • Transplant the plant a temporary home in a large container until late summer or early fall, when adapting to a new home may be less stressful.

Are you adding to your gardens this summer? 

 

References:

https://www.waytogrow.net/blog/mycorrhizae-improve-your-yield-part-1/

CMG GardenNotes 212: The Living Soil

Help, My Garden is Wilting!

Text and photo by Linda McDonnell, A Denver County Master Gardener

Easy-to-Grow Container Basil

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the three planting steps:

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

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

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

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

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

By Jodi Torpey
Denver Master Gardeners since 2015

Four Health Benefits of Gardening

It’s been a spring like no other, hasn’t it? I hope you and yours are healthy, safe, and enduring the challenges brought about by COVID-19.  Since health and well-being are more critical than ever right now, let’s take a look at four important physical and psychological benefits of gardening.

Increase the “Happy Chemical.” Fresh air and sunlight (with proper protection) increase serotonin levels in the brain, which researchers believe decreases anxiety and depression and contributes to a general sense of well-being.  No wonder serotonin has earned the happy chemical nickname.

Feel the (moderate) Burn.  Whether you work out religiously or need encouragement to get to the gym, gardening tasks can increase mobility, muscle tone, and stamina. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) a 150 pound person burns 378 calories during an hour of general gardening.  Digging, planting, and spading involves upper body, back, and leg muscles; weeding entails lots of lunges and squats; raking uses upper body muscles and done vigorously, you will get a good aerobic workout.

Fresh is Best. Growing your own fruits and vegetables is an excellent way to increase access to healthy foods, teach children about nutrition, explore new food options, and reduce the intake of herbicides and pesticides.  

Life-long Learning. I’ve been a Colorado Master Gardener for several years and am always humbled by how much I don’t know – and grateful for the opportunities to continue to learn. Seeking new information and being curious keeps our brains working at optimum levels. If you want to learn more about gardening, check out Colorado State University Extension Gardening Webinars – new, no cost and open to all.

Stay well and enjoy playing in the dirt.

For more information:

Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, March 2017.

The Research is In: Yes, Gardening Totally Counts as Exercise MindBodyGreen.com

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

CSU Denver Extension Plant Sale Fundraiser!

plant saleCSU Denver Extension will be having a no contact and social distance plant sale fundraiser for May 21st and 22nd!

We are excited to offer up some of our favorite varieties of sweet and hot peppers for $6 a plant. To learn more about the varieties of peppers available and to order your plants please visit our website: https://denver.extension.colostate.edu/…/csu-denver-plant-…/

All the money raised from the plant sale and donations goes to support the Denver Extension office.

We look forward to seeing you soon and thank you for supporting our office and programs!

Murder Hornet: Reality for Coloradoans

murder-hornets-with-sting-that-can-kill-land-in-us

Image via Kenpei/Wikimedia Commons

Recently a report on the discovery of the large, native Asian hornet (Vespa mandarinia) in Washington state and British Columbia went viral. The New York Times dubbed it the “murder hornet” because of its striking appearance and size (about 2″ in length, wingspan of 3″), assumed threat to the honeybee population and quarter inch stinger to inject venom into humans.

Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University’s Entomologist and Extension Specialist, offers a constructive look at the Asian hornet and cautions us to look past the dramatic, attention-grabbing headlines.

Cranshaw notes the following:

  • Traps and controls have been developed in Asia and can be adapted for use in the very small outbreak in Washington and British Columbia.
  • While some insects relocate to new areas via packing materials, wood or other carriers, this hornet does not hitchhike well. Given that, to reach Colorado, it would need to navigate difficult terrain from Washington. This is considered unlikely.
  • The insect is a woodland species which lives in low altitude, moist environments. It is not likely to thrive or adapt to the semi-arid Rocky Mountain region. If it did get transported here, it is doubtful it would survive.
  • It is a generalist predator and honeybees are just one of its many predatory targets. Whether the giant Asian hornet will pose any greater threat to honeybees than existing predators remains to be seen. But it is possible that colonies in the wasp’s preferred woodland areas could be the most vulnerable honeybees.

Cranshaw and other entomologists caution that “Murder wasp” is an unwarranted, fear-inducing name. While imposing and unique for its appearance, the Asian hornet’s potential impact needs to be kept in perspective and is not expected to live up to the recent hype.

Additional Resources:

USDA New Pest Response Guidelines

“What’s In A Name? CSU Entomologist Says Title is All Buzz, No Sting”  KUNC Radio Interview with Dr. W. Cranshaw, May 12,2020

Written by Linda McDonnell, a Denver County Master Gardener

 

Container Vegetable Gardening

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Colorado State University

Want to grow vegetables but have limited outdoor space or no “dirt” of your own?  Like the ease of growing in pots versus in the ground? Sounds like container gardening is made for you. Here are some helpful tips for successful gardening in pots.

What to Plant

Peppers, squash, greens, potatoes, basil are among the many plants that grow well in containers – check this Planttalk Colorado publication for details and inspiration. When purchasing plants or seeds, look for cultivars described as compact, dwarf, patio or bush. Determinate tomato varieties work well but I also have great success with ‘Sun Gold’, a sweet, prolific indeterminate cherry tomato. (Determinate varieties tend to ripen all at once while and grow on bushier plants, while indeterminate ripen over a longer period and tend to be larger plants.)

Where and When to Plant

Generally, vegetables and herbs need 6-8 hours of sun a day. Placing your container on a strong dolly with wheels allows you to move the plant to find the ideal space. A dolly also helps you quickly shelter your plants from Colorado’s wicked summer hailstorms.

Warm season vegetables such as tomatoes should be planted when evening low temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees. Don’t rush things – in Denver, this generally means late May, even though Mother’s Day weekend is touted as the kickoff to the gardening season.

What Container to Use

squash

Colorado State University

The larger the plant, the larger the root system.  Salad greens successfully grow in pots that are 6-12” deep and at least 18” wide, while a tomato needs at least a depth and width of 14-16″ or more. Larger pots are less prone to drying out rapidly and because they hold more growing medium, the plant receives more nutrients and has plenty of room for root development. Generously sized, heavy containers anchor large plants in the wind and will help avoid tipping and broken branches.

Plastic, glazed or unglazed clay pots or wood whiskey barrels are popular choices. Unglazed clay pots can require more frequent watering, especially in the hottest part of the season. No matter what your container is made of, it must have good drainage holes.

Don’t forget to add support for vining or large plants – stake, cage or trellis your plant just as you would if it was in the ground. These plant aides are easiest to add before the plant needs it. Wrestling a metal cage over a sprawling plant is not fun and may not be successful. I’ve tried.

Soil and Fertilizer

Use potting media specifically for containers and/or vegetables, often labeled soilless.  “Soilless” potting soil sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  Just like traditional potting soils, it can contain peat moss for nutrients, vermiculite for water retention and perlite to aide in air movement around the roots. The mixture will weigh less and is good to use in heavy containers.

Container veggies grow vigorously and therefore require lots of nutrients. Some mixtures contain time release fertilizers, which help plants get off to a good start, but will not feed plants for the entire season. Excellent information on using soluble and time-release supplements  in our region can be found here.

Penn State Extension noted that time release fertilizers release nutrients faster in warm weather; a pellet fertilizer labeled to last 4-5 months will only last 2 months if the temperatures are above 85 degrees.

According to Colorado State University, “Organic fertilizers such as fish emulsion or blood meal can also be used if desired but may be available too slowly for actively growing plants or may develop sour aromas that attract pets and pests.”

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Parker County Texas Master Gardeners

I’ve always added gravel or broken clay shards to the bottom of  pots for drainage.  Turns out, it’s not necessary or even advisable. Studies by Washington State University and others found that a layer of inorganic material drives excess moisture up to the roots rather than helping with drainage.  Excess moisture suffocates roots and reduces oxygen flow.  So, this year, I’m simply covering the drainage holes with pieces of metal screen to keep soil from leeching out. Paper coffee filters can do the trick too.

When to Water

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this often-asked question. A best practice is to check plants daily, ideally in the morning. Poke your finger into the soil, if it is starting to dry out at your first knuckle, water at the soil line till water flows out the bottom of the pot. Consider factors such as temperature, wind, reflective heat from surrounding hard surfaces, and as mentioned earlier, the type of container used. In the heat of the summer, you will likely water every day, possibly twice.

Do not allow vegetables to dry out completely – they may not forgive you!  Results of underwatering can include deformed  fruit, poor growth, disease or even loss of the plant.

Conclusion

So there you have it, a round up of solid research-based advice for container gardening. Growing edible plants in pots is rewarding and can yield excellent results. It’s a reliable method for experienced and beginning gardeners alike.  If you’ve never given it a try, its a fun summer activity which can provide plenty of healthy, tasty rewards.

 

Written by Linda McDonnell, Denver County Master Gardener

CSU Extension Spring Gardening Webinars

Free-Classes

Click here for the updated list of CSU Extension Spring Gardening Webinars!

These classes are FREE for the public.
(All Zoom classes have a 300 person limit- 1st come first serve)

Upcoming Topics include:

  • Vegetable Varieties for the Garden
  • Pollinator Paradise: How to Attract Them to Your Landscape
  • Waterwise Landscape Design

Keep checking back for additional classes that are being added!

 

Merrill Kingsbury, Master Gardener Program Assistant, CSU Denver Extension

Grow and Give-A Modern Victory Garden Project Website

Grow and Give

Check out this new website from the Colorado Master Gardener Program!  Learn to grow food and donate extra locally. These resources are designed to help you grow your own food this year and beyond. Colorado State University Extension & Master Gardeners are here to help you! Click here to view the website!

This site is being continually updated with new videos, linked fact sheets and information about how to grow your own food at home in Colorado.

Check out a sample of the many videos on the website:

By Merrill Kingsbury, Master Gardener Program Assistant, CSU Denver Extension

 

 

 

Growing Hops in the Home Garden

Growing hops at home for brewing or ornamental purposes can be quite rewarding.  However, consistently producing healthy hop plants with good cone yields is a bit of an art, but with experience, it is a process that can be mastered by following a few easy steps.

Hops (Humulus lupulus) is a perennial in the hemp family (Cannabaceae) that produces annual bines from overwintering rootstock.  Hops are native to Europe, western Asia, and North America and are one of the key bittering and flavoring ingredients of beer.

Hops are described as “bines” rather than “vines” because they climb by wrapping around a supporting structure in a clockwise direction and cling to the surface using stiff downward-facing hairs.

Hop plants are dioecious; they have separate male and female plants. Only the female plant produces the cones and lupulin utilized in brewing.  Lupulin is a yellow, resinous substance produced by specialized glands within the cones. Lupulin contains the oils and resins that give hops their distinct aroma. Hops are rhizomes that have underground stems that can produce additional roots and shoots.

Step 1. Selection and Propagation

Cascade, Chinook, Nugget and CTZ varieties will grow well on the Colorado Front Range.  Nugget and Chinook varieties are prolific growers and are very resistant to both insect pressure and diseases.  Rhizomes can be purchased from some homebrew stores, through mail order from many growers, or by propagating established plants.

In Colorado, rhizomes should be divided in late February to early March while plants are dormant. If possible, untrained bines should be coiled around the base of the plant during the growing season and covered with soil. The covered bines will convert to rhizomes, which can be removed in the winter by digging adjacent to the plant and cutting the rhizomes from the plant using a sharp, sterile knife. Ideally, cut the rhizomes into approximately 3-inch lengths with multiple buds.

Stem cuttings can be taken throughout the growing season but are more likely to root when obtained in the spring through early summer before flowering. Several cuttings can be taken from one bine. Dissect the bine so that each cutting has one node at the top, dip the stem bottom in a root toner, and place the cuttings in sand or florist’s fam. Keep the rooting media wet, and roots should develop within 2 weeks. Once roots are well formed, transplant the cutting into a pot with soil and fertilize with a basic fertilizer such as 16-16-16.

Step 2. Establishment and Care

Hop bines normally grow from 15 to 20 feet high but may grow higher depending on the climate and available climbing support. They require full sun (12 hours), good air circulation and well-drained soil with a pH between 6 and 7.5 for high productivity.  A large container such as a half whiskey barrel can also be used and allows you to manage your soil conditions and help keep any unwanted spreading of the rhizomes into your yard.

Once the threat of a killing frost has passed in the spring, transplant the hops into the desired outdoor site. Dig a narrow trench 12 inches deep and slightly longer than the rhizome. Plant one rhizome per hill with the buds pointed up and over with 1 inch of loose soil. They should be spaced three feet apart. Initially, provide consistent watering while being careful to not over water because hops do not like to have “wet feet”.

After establishment, provide climbing support such as a pole or trellis at the planting site. Ideally, string a top wire about 15 to 18 feet high, then attach strings the hops will climb. As an alternative, erect a single pole, which is what most commercial yards did until well into the nineteenth century, and run strings to the top.  The string needs to support plants that will weigh 20 lbs when mature.  If planting two or more hop plants side by side, allow 24 to 36 inches of spacing between plants. If growing for ornamental reasons, a standard trellis or arbor can also work and keep bines pruned to keep desired form. The cones will grow on sidearms as the plant grows.

The focus in the first year of planting is root establishment and not cone production, thus it may be beneficial to limit the plant’s ability to climb during establishment by supplying only a 4-foot stake or pole. Be careful not to remove foliage during the first year because the plants require as much leaf material as possible to develop and store carbohydrates in the root system for the following year’s growth. Plants usually reach full production in their second or third growing season.

Step 3. Train the Bines

As the shoots grow to approximately 3 feet in length, choose the 2-3 most vigorous to grow and remove all remaining shoots. As the shoots elongate, train them onto the support structure by winding them in a clockwise direction, which follows their natural growth habit. Plants may be fertilized during spring and early summer, but fertilizer is not typically required after mid-July. Nitrogen is usually the limiting nutrient for adequate hop growth. You can apply nitrogen as urea (46-0-0) or in combination with other nutrients such as a 16-16-16 fertilizer.

Step 4. Irrigation

Hop plants require consistent moisture throughout the growing season. The plant roots want to be wet but not waterlogged. You may let the soil dry out slightly between waterings. Hop plants grow very rapidly during the heat of summer, so it is important to deliver consistent, even moisture to prevent drought stress. A hop plant may require several gallons of water per day during the summer. Water at the base of the plant to minimize wet foliage which can lead to disease issue.

Step 5. Common Diseases and Insects

Powdery mildew is a common disease affecting hops in our climate.  It is caused by the fungus Podosphaera macularis.  Although unsightly on the foliage, powdery mildew is most problematic when it attacks developing cones during the summer. Cone tissue infected with powdery mildew becomes necrotic and deformed, and chemical composition may be negatively affected. Control measures include spring pruning to remove infected tissue and fungicide application with products such as sulfur.  Many varieties of hops, such as Nugget or Chinook are resistant to the disease.

Spider mites are a common insect problem. A minor infestation causes bronze leaves, while a severe one results in defoliation and white webs. Spider mites are most dangerous during warm dry weather and not usually a problem for well-watered plants.

Step 6. Harvesting and Storage

Hops typically mature between mid-August and mid-September. Hop cones harvested for beer brewing can be used fresh after picking, or dried and sealed in an airtight container in the freezer for later use. Mature cones will have a dry, papery feel, and the lupulin inside of the cone will be golden yellow and have a pleasant “hoppy” aroma. Immature cones will feel soft and vegetative, and the lupulin will be pale yellow with a mild vegetative aroma.

After harvest, cut the bines off the trellis leaving 2 feet of bine above ground.  Do not cut down the last green matter until after the first frost, then prune bines to a few inches and cover with mulch.

Sources:

Hieronymus, S. (2012). For the love of hops: the practical guide to aroma, bitterness and the culture of hops. Boulder (Colorado): Brewers Publications.

Growing Hops in the Home Garden: https://catalog.extension.oregonstate.edu/em9115

Powdery Mildew Fact Sheet: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/yard-garden/powdery-mildews-2-902/

Aphids on Shade Trees and Ornamentals: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/aphids-on-shade-trees-and-ornamentals-5-511/

Spider Mites: https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/spider-mites-5-507/

Organic Hops Variety Trials and Over-wintering Study: https://specialtycrops.agsci.colostate.edu/organic-hops-variety-trials-and-over-wintering-study/

 

Written by Kevin Ritter, a Denver County Master Gardener as well as Crooked Stave Artisan Beer Project’s Laboratory Technician and Sensory Specialist.

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