Friday, August 22, 2014

When to plant wildflowers? by Tina Ligon

It has been a great wildflower year here in the Colorado foothills. Fall is a great time to plant seed for next year's crop of flowers. Come and learn all about collecting wildflower seed and how to plant for success for next year.

Class on Sept 4th, 6:30 pm Exhibit Barn, $5.00:  The fall garden: Collecting/sowing wildflower seeds and ideas for fall color.  Fall is the best time to collect and sow wildflower seeds, but it’s not always that easy to figure out how to do it. We’ll include some hands-on activities in the garden if the weather holds; dress warmly.  Class will also give some ideas for fall color in your mountain garden. Call to reserve your spot - 303-582-9106

CSU Extension Gilpin County
230 Norton Drive, Black Hawk, CO 80422  

Mother Nature puts together the best combinations!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Distorted Aspen Leaf - by Irene Shonle

Have you been noticing any distorted or deformed aspen leaves?  They're becoming evident at this time of year, and because they look so odd (possibly even alarming), they cause concern.
Eriophyid mite on aspen leaves
The distortion is a gall caused by a tiny mite called an Eriophyid mite.

The good news is that the gall does not affect plant health, and usually the same tree is not hit two years in a row. So, it is just an aesthetic issue.  The affected leaves can be cut out if they are really bothersome, but it is not necessary.

The distortion is caused by  chemical secretions produced during feeding or egg laying. The chemicals act like natural plant growth hormones.  The leaves only become distorted when the leaf is attacked early in the growing season when it is rapidly expanding.  Fully expanded leaves do not have the same reaction.

For more information, please see this fact sheet:

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

On Microclimates: what a difference a side makes! By Irene Shonle

Microclimates are much more dramatic in the mountains than in lower elevations.  The intense sun can really warm up the south side of a house, while the wind and shade on the north can keep plants in a deep freeze for much longer.

Here is what I saw when poking around my house this morning (8,700')
I noticed my catmint blooming already on the south side:

Catmint in bloom June 1 at 8700 on south side

But on the north, this is what it looked like:

Catmint nowhere close to blooming on the north side
Same for Golden Banner:
South side -- Golden banner in bloom!
North side -- Golden banner tightly in bud
This shows the dramatic effect of microclimates.  Observing the same plant in different stages around your house can inform you about the microclimate, and help you choose the best plants for certain areas (or help you figure out what to plant where for that first dose of color for the season!)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Voles or pocket gophers -- what's eating your garden? By Irene Shonle

I get a lot of calls and questions about critters in the garden.  People almost always think that voles are the ones wreaking havoc in their gardens, when often pocket gophers are the actual culprits. The confusion arises when both species are present -- the vole spends much of its time above ground, and so is often seen (and therefore gets the blame), but the pocket gopher, which almost never emerges, usually causes far more destruction.

Here's how you can figure out what's eating your garden:

1.  Look at the holes/tunnels.

Voles have small, oval,open holes - about 1-2" wide.  These are never plugged with soil, and there is often a "runway" in front of the hole.  This can be easiest to see when the snow melts and the grass is not too high, or in the winter.

Vole holes - note that they are open.  The winter picture shows the runway clearly.

Northern Pocket Gophers' holes are about 2-3.5 inches wide, but are almost always plugged with soil.  In the summer, the holes are surrounded by large fan-shaped mounds of dirt  that are 12 to 18 inches wide and 4 to 6 inches high.

Pocket gopher hole -- note that it is plugged, and the fan of dirt.  The "hole" is not always this obvious.
In the spring time, just after the snow melts, if you see long tubes of solid soil  (eskers) snaking about on the surface , that is a definite sign of pocket gopher.  This is due to ongoing excavation of burrows during the winter -- they pack the excavated dirt into the snow, which shapes them into the eskers, rather than the fan-shaped mounds when there is no snow.

2. Look at the damage - is it above-ground or below-ground?
The most common voles we have are meadow voles and montane voles, and these two species mostly eat above-ground parts of plants, including  leaves of flowers, grasses and sedges and fungi  in the summer.  Dried grasses, bark, and twigs are winter staples.

Voles are of most concern when their winter bark-chewing girdles trees and shrubs (they are also problematic in lawns, but lawns less common in the mountains):
During the winter, a vole girdled this lilac by chewing the bark off all the way around the shrub

Pocket gophers mostly eat the roots of plants (below-ground).   They only rarely come above-ground to eat, and then only a very short distance from their burrow.  They use their sense of smell to locate the roots of plants, and then will eat the entire root system.  This causes a sudden and unexpected "wilt" of the plant.  They can even pull an entire plant underground -- sometimes even under the astonished eyes of a gardener!
The middle columbine's roots were eaten by a pocket gopher -- look for sudden, unusual "wilting"

Monday, May 12, 2014

Early May Bloomers at 7900' by Tina Ligon

Early Larkspur (Delphenium nuttallianum)

It is May 8, 2014 and we have bright sun and an inch of snow that fell last night. You gotta love spring in the Rockies. I took a stroll, OK, navigated an obstacle coarse, around the property to see what is blooming. Below are some pictures of these tough little plants, that will laugh at this little snowfall.
I discovered two new to me plants, the Clematis hiruitissima and the Collinsia parviflora.  I am amazed at  how some flowers seem to come and go, the conditions needed for some to germinate make them more like guest appearances. What is blooming in your neighborhood?

Sugar Bowl Plant (Clematis hirsutissima)
Blue Eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora )

Candytuft (Noccaea fendleri, ssp glauca)

Mountain Parsley (Cymopterus montaus)

Spring Beauty (Claytonia lanceolata)

Mouse -Ear Chickweed (Cerastium strictum)

Golden smoke (Corydalis aurea)

Wild Woodland Strawberry (Fragaria vesca)

Sand Lily (Leucocrinum montanum)

Kinnickinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)

Golden Banner (Thermopsis divaricarpa)

Cut leaf Fleabane (Erigeron compositus.)

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Two Foothill Gardening Experiences in 2013 by Ed Powers

Seedlings getting ready for 2013 season
In 2013 I started the year where I left off in 2012.  In 2012 I had just moved to Evergreen from Detroit, Michigan and was able to start seeds in late April, almost too late for this area.  I planted a few tomatoes, squash, peppers, marigolds, Icelandic poppies and zinnias.  Of course I brought the seed from Detroit.  Everything sprouted and grew.  Because we were still moving in I gave most of the plants to my daughter who lives in Indian Hills about 6500 to 7000 feet in elevation. Our Evergreen home is at between 7400 and 7800 feet in elevation.  I kept a few squash, peppers and tomatoes which I planted late in June.  While the squash and tomatoes grew and began to fruit, the peppers plants were eaten by the chipmunks right away.  My 1st lesson learned.  The tomatoes and squash fruited but did not mature and died at the first frost in early September. The second of many lessons learned. My daughter’s garden in Indian Hills flourished, grew and fruited.  She planted in early May and covered them.  So my seed sprouting was successful.
Evergreen garden area covered and mulched
In 2013, I planned on planting a small garden in my front area.  Mine would not be a raised garden but on the natural land with amendments to help the land for planting and growth.  My daughter’s area was a set of three raised gardens.  She had set them up in 2012.  She enriched them in 2013.  After a few discussions, my daughter and I decided to do what Colorado State University had recommended.  We took soil samples from areas of our landed that had not been cultivated to see what the native soil in our 2 areas were like.  We sent them in early to get an idea before the gardening season started.  The results came back with the following results.  We both had land that needed to be given Nitrogen on a regular basis.  This is true of much of Colorado.  However, here is where they differed.  The Evergreen land was amended well and needed only to be kept up.  It held water well (unlike much of the surrounding land).
Our daughters land on the other hand needs to be amended in a big way and her land did not hold water.  So it required a large amount of amendments and required constant watering.  Her raised beds answered the requirements for her gardening.  

I planted our seeds indoors in early March of 2013.  I planted Tomatoes, peppers, Zucchini Squash, Acorn Squash (seed from previous year’s crop), Spaghetti Squash (seed from previous year’s crop), various flowers.  The peppers never came up.  We did supplement our gardens with plants we bought.  I recorded the progress of the gardens and made comparisons with pictures during the season.  The gardens took about the same amount of time to grow.  However the garden in Indian Hills did better with the squash than did the Evergreen Garden.  The Indian Hills garden receives about 6- 8 hours of sunlight and the Evergreen garden receives 10 hours of sunlight.  Our daughter covered her squash with clear plastic which helped.

The squash in Evergreen struggled all season and produced little fruit.  I will rig some type of cover this year. The peppers we bought did not mature or fruit in either garden.  We will look at a different type of pepper next year to see if we have any better luck. We both had good success with the annuals we planted and bought.  They bloomed into October.  They were Petunias, Alyssum, Icelandic Poppies and Lobelia.  Our daughter also planted Pansies. At the end of the season, Evergreen harvested over ¾ of a bushel of tomatoes from 4 plants, 4 squash and no peppers.  Indian Hills harvested ½ bushel from tomato plants, 12 squash and no peppers.  The tomatoes had to be brought in to ripen after the frost but we did not lose any and they all ripened.

All in all it was a good 1st full year for us and it gives us something to build on. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Supergermination of Annual Weeds Possible by Irene Shonle

The torrential rains of last fall combined with an above average snowpack this winter mean that we can expect a banner year for weeds, especially annual weeds.  (Of course, it also means we should have a fabulous wildflower year, too.)
Cheatgrass, also known as downy brome, is the weed that is most likely to be found in abundance this year.  Cheatgrass can outcompete most native plants and even many grasses, because it germinates so early; it is a state-listed noxious weed (List C).  Later in the summer it becomes a fire hazard and a nuisance as the seed heads lodge in socks and fur.  Cheatgrass can produce 13,000 seeds per square yard (meter).  When conditions are just right, almost all of these seeds will germinate, creating a larger-than-usual crop of weeds.   
Alyssum simplex (also known as Alyssum minus) at early stages of flowering -- a great time to tackle it
Small-flowered alyssum, that tiny upright weed that turns the hillsides a yellow green in the spring, will also respond to the moisture, but perhaps not quite to the same extent.  Other annual weeds that might respond enthusiastically include scentless chamomile and field pennycress.

This supergermination might sound like it’s really bad news, but it all depends on whether you can get out there to deal with them before they go to seed.  If you can, this spring will be a golden opportunity to deplete most of the seeds in the seed bank.  That means that in future years, there will be almost no new weeds!   If possible, prioritize working on these weeds in May and early June, especially if you don’t have extensive patches to deal with.  If your populations are large, try tackling the most important areas first; these probably will be the areas closest to your house, or where you want to grow flowers.  The flip side is that if the weeds go untreated, we will have extra seeds going into the soil and weed populations will increase.

The key here is in the timing – you have to get out there almost as soon as the seeds germinate.  If you catch them before there are any seeds present, you can hoe, till, or pull the weeds.    It’s possible to take care of huge swaths of weeds in just an hour using a stirrup hoe.  Kind of makes you feel like the Valiant Little Tailor of Grimm’s Fairy Tale fame, who “killed seven with one blow.”  There’s no need to bag the plants if seeds have not been set (anytime through early flowering); they can just be left to decompose on the ground.   It’s also possible to use an herbicide, but you would need to apply it very early; many annuals don’t respond to herbicides later in their growth cycle
Cheatgrass seedlings before flowering and seed set -- easy to take care of with a hoe
If you don’t quite catch them before they set seed, controlling the weeds becomes a little more of a nuisance, but is still doable.  Pull the weeds and seal them in a plastic bag, then throw them away.  Since this can quickly turn into quite a lot of bags, it’s easy to see why getting them earlier is a good idea.
Pulling and bagging cheatgrass

Monday, April 14, 2014

Cover Crops by Trudy Hodges

Winter Cover Crop
This past winter I decided to try growing some cover crops in my greenhouse.  I planted some white clover, and a few others (I can’t remember).  The photos were taken before I tilled the soil in preparation for planting.

Cover crops are amazing; they provide many positive aspects to the garden.  They can provide erosion control, fix nitrogen, and build soil quality.  Cover crops are also called “green manure” and are often in the Fabaceae (pea) family.
Clover Cover Crop
Increasing soil fertility is one of the primary uses of cover crops.  They can influence a range of macronutrients and micronutrients; nitrogen has received the most attention since it is often the limiting nutrient in crop production.  Cover crops can also improve soil quality by increasing organic matter levels when crops are killed and incorporated into the soil.  Plants must be killed before they go to seed and before the top growth gets too mature.

After plowing under the green compost it is best to wait 2 to 3 weeks before planting vegetables or flowers, as crop decomposition can tie up soil nitrogen.

At higher altitudes, cover crops can be planted as early as mid-September, with mid-October being the latest. Depending on your elevation, you may need to plant earlier to get the plants established before freezing weather. Do not let crops go to seed, or you will have cover crop in your seed bed.  Many of the crops winter kill allowing you avoid the waiting period in the early spring.

Buckwheat is a broadleaf plant that will smother out weeds and other plants.  Its flowers also attract beneficial insects.

Clover comes in many varieties.  Clover fixes nitrogen, attracts beneficials and helps build rich soil.  Clover must be inoculated with a Rhizobium bacteria for best results.

Rye comes as annual or cereal ryeAnnual rye will winter kill allowing you to skip the waiting period in the spring.

Field Peas fix nitrogen and are cold tolerant, making them a good fall plant.  They will winter kill, allowing an early spring start.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Seed Saving … Libraries, Banks or Exchanges?

Glorious Seeds - photo by Hannah Walters
Let’s clear up the confusion for first time seed savers or returning gardeners who aren't quite sure the exact and best approach to seed saving and expanding resources for this popular garden trend. It starts with the basic question – why save seed and how hard will it be?  The short answer to successful seed saving as well as access is we all desire clean, healthy foods from our garden that preserve biodiversity and provide for the continuation of pure heirloom vegetables that have been popular for ages but not necessarily viable for commercial farming.

Like many things, the difficulty lies in specific details. Seeds from hybrid plants are most likely not to reproduce exactly year to year due to their mixed genetic nature, so they are not desirable for saving. Heirloom varieties require needed attention to growing, cross pollination, collecting and storing of the viable seed.  Do your homework and start with knowing your growing zone and what specifics (cleaning winter refuse, soils, exposures, etc.) need attention in your beds before you plant anything for your vegetable garden.  Then plan your garden considering these added resources of seed, beyond your garden center or mail order catalog.

A Seed Library lends seeds or may even share seeds from an existing collection.  The primary element is the recipient grows out the seeds, saves from the plants then returns the seeds to further the library collection.  Many public libraries are starting seed collections for this purpose.  Be cautious to make sure they’re testing their seeds for viability and can provide standards on how seeds were stored.
National Center for Genetic Preservation, Fort Collins, CO
A Seed Bank is just that, a bank of seed reserves that have been housed to protect against destruction and also preserves biodiversity in case of disasters or other calamity. One exists at CSU in Ft. Collins in partnership with the Nat’l. Center for Genetic Research Preservation. In addition to the Bank, CSU also operates their own seed lab where vegetable, flower and native seed is tested for purity & germination.  You can visit their website at for further information.

Seed Swap/Exchange at Organic Seed Alliance Conference 2014
A Seed Exchange is a group of interested parties coming together to offer seeds for exchange or trade while still having the ability to find specific seed varietals for their own needs.  This can happen in a neighborhood, or community group or even a garden club in a simple seed swap.

Soon through your local Master Gardeners with the Extension program in Jefferson County will have their own exchange and will be open to accept seed at the end of the 2014 growing season.  You can join the High Altitude Seed Exchange for a small fee, thus allowing access to seed grown and viable in altitudes of 5,000’ and above. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Calling all mountain gardeners -- here's a workshop just for you! by Irene Shonle

For all you high mountain gardeners longing for spring, come to the Extreme Gardening: Mountain Vegetables and Ornamentals on April 26th.  We will cover mountain vegetable gardening in the morning from 9:00-12:00,  and ornamental gardening from 1:00-4:00.  Dealing with critters in the garden will be covered over lunch.  Speakers will include Extension Agents and Colorado Master Gardeners from high elevations. 

The vegetable garden session will cover topics such as soils, composting, vegetables most likely to succeed, herb gardening, season extension, and of course, the elusive mountain tomato.

Over lunch, we will discuss dealing with various critters in the garden.  Please bring your own lunch, as there are few places to get food nearby, and it will be a “working lunch.”  People attending either or both sessions are welcome to attend this bonus class.

In the afternoon, we will go over how to make the most of your yard with beautiful ornamentals, including microclimates, the best ornamentals for the mountains, container gardening, gardening for pollinators, and a panel discussion highlighting different gardens and gardeners.

The workshop location is near Black Hawk (at the Gilpin Community Center). Cost is $20 for either session, or $30 for the entire day.  Please bring your own lunch. For more information or to register, go to the Gilpin Extension website ( or register directly at this link:

Hope to see you there!