Archive for April, 2009

Battling pirates, charming foreign leaders, racing to combat swine flu – no, this isn’t a new James Bond movie – this is our President.  To say that his first 100 days has been interesting is an understatement.  Jump start a fledgling leadership the entire world is watching and pundits will fill the media with analysis on all that’s been accomplished in these few weeks. 


Let’s join them.  How does he fare with the green thumb crowd?  Gardeners know a lot can be done in 100 days, after all, it’s almost a growing season.  In that time there’s food, flowers and fresh air, plus the stress release of getting a little exercise. 


In 100 days three positives and one negative have been accomplished, but this is just my opinion – if you have other nominations for the green thumb watch, please send them along and I’ll post them.  For now, here’s a quick run-down on a few steps forward:


1)  Returning pavement to soil.  February 12, 2009, USDA announces the People’s Garden.  Breaking pavement on the grounds of USDA to commemorate the 200th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln, a government agency proves it can change the way it thinks about land use by turning parking to plantings.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the intention to put in community gardens at USDA facilities worldwide.


2)  Planting a garden.  March 20, 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama and a group of school kids sliced up the White House lawn to install a kitchen garden.  Braving pressure from the pesticide industry, the plan is to manage the garden organically.  No doubt this is the biggest factor for the recent trips abroad for our First Family:  they just want to shop seed sales around the globe.


3)  Saving the trees.  March 30, 2009, President Obama signs the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which puts over 2 million acres of wilderness under federal protection.  The largest preservation bill to be signed in 15 years, wilderness in nine states, including Colorado, are now protected.  Oh, yes, it saves rivers, watersheds, and historic places as well.


Now for a negative:  no new sod on the National Mall.  I know, I know – nobody finds turf stimulating, but if any place needs a face lift it’s that mall.  Millions of feet have scuffed the grass away, leaving it less than lovely.  But not everything can be accomplished in a short season, so perhaps we’ll see more focus on the Mall’s lawn now that spring has arrived.


As the focus is on the first 100 days of President Obama’s term, remember to ask yourself what you will do in the next 100.  Change can’t all be from the top.  Consider growing food, and donating some to the local food banks – fresh produce is in demand for folks who need help.


Participate in an ancient tradition of swapping seeds with another gardener – this small act is what brings people together.  I’ll be exchanging with Chan, David, Veronica, and others who love good food fresh from the garden. 


Shop local produce from farmer’s markets and roadside stands; put a face to your food.  When you know the grower, you have a better connection to the fabric of your food systems, and a healthier way to eat.


One step daily to build your community means a hundred steps a few months from now. 




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My brother has a dog – a big, happy Golden Retriever – who visits occasionally when my sibling goes out of town.  This had never been a problem until the pooch came to stay when the raspberries were in fruit.


Goldens are a friendly breed and love to be the center of attention, but on this visit, Asa had to stay in the back yard while we worked in the front.  “He’ll be fine,” I said to my spouse, “he can see us through the fence and we can talk to him.” 


We set about working and Asa set about barking, whining, and generally putting up a ruckus to get our attention.  Our backs were to him, but we crooned soothing words at our visitor.  Suddenly we heard what every parent knows is a bad sign: silence.


Slowly we turned to view a horrific sight – the dog had discovered the ripe red raspberries in full fruit.  Plopped down in the patch, a huge grin on his face, this dog delicately reached out with his tongue and plucked the berry from the cane, wolfing it down.


“No!” I yelled, but that just prompted him to reposition himself to reach more berries.  “No, no, nonono!” I cried, rushing at the fence.  But he’s no dummy, and knew I couldn’t get to him as he gobbled faster, grinning through the juice.  By the time I reached the back yard, little was left of the crop.


Stunned, we could only look at or de-fruited brambles in sadness.  We couldn’t blame the dog, though.  Everybody loves a sweet raspberry.   gold raspberry


If you’re pining for a bit of fruit and want to put some in your yard, here are a few pointers.  Practice safe gardening – buy certified disease free stock.  Don’t take divisions from others unless you’re positive you know their patch is problem free.  Choose a location in your yard with full sun, deep, loose soil, and good drainage. 


If you have bare root stock, soak the roots in water 24 hours before planting.  Pop them in 10-inches between plants and three feet between rows.  Plan to control weeds, and put in drip irrigation.


Some raspberries produce fruit on the first-year canes (primocanes) in fall.  Historically just the red raspberries, there are now varieties of blackberries which fruit on primocanes (PrimJan, PrimJim).  This is a big step forward for places like Colorado, which had limited blackberry success due to winter kill of canes.  Get ready to control the suckers of fall bearers – they can take over the yard.  Heavier feeders than summer bearers, fertilize them several times in the season.


Summer bearers, or biennials, have shoot growth the first season and fruit on the canes in mid summer of the second year.  They get tall, so trellis summer bearing raspberries.  Summer bearers don’t need full strength fertilizer – light applications are fine during summer.


In our area red, gold, and black raspberries will give you a crop; purple ones are less reliable.  Check out Planttalk Colorado for more information on growing these brambles, and tell your brother to leave his dog at home.




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Are you feeling a bit sore from jumping into the gardening season?  Does all that digging, rolling around, and trotting things back and forth make you feel a little stiff by the end of the day? 


What you need is a nice stretch to take the kinks out of those shoulders, so look up, gaze deeply into your human’s eyes, and whimper.  Hold a paw up for sympathy.  Beg if you have to, but get your person to buy – and use – “The Healthy Way to Stretch Your Dog – A Physical Therapy Approach,” by Sasha Foster and Ashley Foster (Dogwise Publishing, $24.95).  The Healthy Way to Stretch Your Dog


Why am I writing about this in a gardening blog?  Because our pooches experience the garden with a full-contact joy we can only watch in awe:  either they’re face first in the soil with paws scrabbling and dirt flying; or they’re on the grass, rolling until every inch of fur is scratched and feeling great.  Honestly, I wish I could wallow so well.


Their happiness at having a companion outside with them is obvious – one look at their smiling faces, curious nose-bumps as we plant, or eagerness to help dig tells it all.  If you have a four-footed friend who loves the garden, take care of them by learning how to keep them healthy.


Active dogs need to take care of their body as much as humans do, making a good stretch routine part of a program for keeping dogs in shape.  Author Sasha Foster, a physical therapist, and Ashley Foster, a certified Pet Dog Trainer, combine their expertise in a tell-all book for those who want to help their pets be comfortable.


“A digging dog will need to stretch his pectoralis and caudal shoulder muscles,” says Sasha, because dogs can overdo their fun in the garden as easily as humans.  “And naturally a front paw stretch will be needed (and a paw-dicure if going out that evening),” she joked.  stretch pectoralis

 stretch caudal shoulder

From their press release:

“Research on human athletes is changing what we know about stretching. For example, it is now recognized that aggressive stretching should only take place after muscles are warmed up and shortened from exertion. Authors Sasha and Ashley Foster have applied this latest research to dogs—many of whom compete in vigorous canine sporting events—so that you can learn how to safely and effectively stretch your dog to prevent injuries, maintain joint integrity, and improve you dog’s fitness whether he is an elite canine athlete or a lap dog.

Over 300 photos and diagrams demonstrate how to safely and effectively stretch each major muscle group. Stretching routines are presented for both large and small dogs, older dogs, and those that are involved in a variety of dog sports.”

See a demo on their technique, then check out this book.  Read until you’ve learned to help your buddy.  Good human.



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Enjoy the rain or snow everyone?  It really helped our lawns green up.   But in addition to helping our bluegrass, perennial rye, fine and tall fescue get going, it also highlights a problem of monumentally minuscule proportions:  grass mites.


Dear heavens what havoc a tiny creature can wreak on a yard.  Instead of the cheerful green of a spring day, homeowners are facing with a sobering reality:  those little creatures sucked the life out of your grass.  It’s left brittle and brown, with the added oddity of looking as if it was matted down by a weight of water.

Active in early spring and aggravated by warm, dry winters, evidence of their savagery is obvious on lawns with slight slopes facing south or west.  Several mites can affect Colorado turf, for a run-down on the two biggest thugs check out the fact sheet CSU put out on mites.  mite damage

Banks grass mite is the most destructive one to have, but clover mites consider your home their castle; they move in en masse through the windows.  On the lawn things are grim, with small, white flecking (stippling) on leaves, or a bit of purpling on injured grass blades.   The worst part is that damage spreads rapidly when it’s dry – a condition we were in up until a couple of weeks ago. 

Check out the fact sheet, and then look at your lawn.  If you’re seeing brown spots that haven’t been there before and appear on south or west exposure, think mites.  But check to make sure – closely examine your grass, lying on your belly out there if you have to, to see if you can see the creatures.  You may need a magnifying glass.

Better yet, get an expert.  Many lawn care pros can spot a mite a block away…well, not really, but they are very good.  Find a good company at the Colorado Association of Lawn Care Professionals. 


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Our wet weather has brought out the odd in several areas.  The winner of this week’s Garden News of the Bizarre is a post from Dr. Whitney Cranshaw, professor of Entomology at Colorado State University.


Whitney, for those who don’t know him, is a very funny guy.  His passion for insects is almost as legendary as his red, high-top converse sneakers.  You’d think a fellow who spends his days surrounded by bugs would be immune to the creepy or gross, but it turns out he loves it when weird things happen.


Here’s his post from today on Pestserv, a list for folks like me who keep up with bugs and thugs that attack plants.  He’s talking of the water-holding crystals you can put in your potting mix or soil to keep water from evaporating too quickly:


“A few weeks ago I repotted some plants with Premier Pro-Mix for Containers, a soil media with some polyacrylamide crystals in it.  One of the pots where I used the soil mix was a sapling tree that I left outdoors – where it subsequently received the full benefit of the marvelous snow/rains that came through Friday and Saturday.


“Well, they say that those crystals can absorb many times their original volume of water – and they sure did.  I am attaching a couple of pictures of what it looked like this morning.  polyacrylamide ooze


“It looks to me like the flower pot barfed.


“Pretty gross.  It is sort of subsiding now and I suspect it should be normal after a day or two without more water.  But 2 days of 100% humidity and steady precipitation created a monster.”


Whitney Cranshaw, Fort Collins


As if viewing his gelatinous ooze-spewing pot wasn’t interesting enough, a few of his colleagues on campus – professors in the Horticulture department – weighed in with tidbits of information on this wonder gel.


According to Dr. Steven Newman, greenhouse specialist and guru-in-the-know for all things potted:  “This is a typical response of these gels. They all will eventually migrate to the top of the container.” 


This is where I say “you learn something new every day.”  Today, it’s that these crystals will slowly worm their way upward until they crest over the top of the pot in a gooey cascade.  Probably during a formal cocktail party you’re holding in your garden.  polyacrylamide over the top


Says Dr. Tony Koski, turf specialist who answers a lot of questions on whether adding these to your lawn will help (they don’t, not really), “Salts from fertilizers or inherent in your water NORMALLY reduce the degree of water absorption/swelling with these gels. The amount of precipitation, combined with its purity/absence of salts, caused the gels in this case to swell to abnormally large size.”


No kidding!  Thank heavens this didn’t occur to Whitney’s lawn, or the kids in his neighborhood would have had a whole new game playing slip-slide across the grass.


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People are begging me to stop.  As my alarm at the dry weather rose over the past few months, I began every superstition I knew  to invoke the storm clouds our way.  


There was research into our predicament, and meetings with grim-voiced scientists tracking our dry-down.  I joked about dancing naked through the garden, but didn’t mean it; our police have better things to do than track down an unclad, half-mad gardener. 


Instead, I wrote about it and encourage people to spring water their trees, shrubs and turf.  “Grass mites,” I fervently warned, “are having their way with your lawn.”


Eventually, after a few sputters and spurts, these efforts paid off.  It’s raining and snowing and sleeting all at once – the weather’s so excited to be here it’s unleashing everything it has on us.  Roads are flooding.  Schools are closing.  Weather casters on major TV stations are giddy in the knowledge that, this time, they were right (it’s true – I saw one giggle).


Those who know me have started stopping by or phoning, acknowledging my power and asking me to dial it back a little bit.  Rest assured: I’m trying.


How will our plants fare through all of this?  That depends.  Should temperatures stay hovering around 35-degrees, the plants will be fine.  A little wet snow won’t harm them.


But if we get the big dump the forecasters are predicting tomorrow, branches may be broken.  Should that happen, some may think of putting their trees back together again. 


Split or broken trunks and branches should not be glued, duct taped, screwed, stapled, super-glued, tied, propped, cemented or banded back onto the tree.  This will not result in the tree fusing back together, á la Humpty Dumpty. 


In fact, this can lead to a very hazardous situation.  If the tree is seriously damaged, it may need to be assessed to determine if it is in a dangerous condition.  Hazard tree assessments require specifically trained experts to address this problem with potentially serious legal complications.  Many city foresters and certified arborists have the training (and insurance) to perform hazard tree evaluations. 


Prune off the torn branches and clean up wound sites.  If the bark is torn, take a sharp knife and clean it from the tree, leaving a smooth edge to the wound.  Don’t use wound paint – the tree will seal that area itself. 

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Every once in a while I get to walk with the Green Man.  This happens when I spend time with others (man or woman) who have such a depth of knowledge on whatever trees, plants or garden we’re visiting that I’m convinced they channel the Celtic legend. 


I hold that ancient deity with affection.  His leafy face often has vines or twigs clinging in his hair, a condition so common to me during the season that my friends hardly blink as I pluck a bit of plant from myself while talking with them.  The type of leaves forming his face vary depending on the artist, and sometimes he sprouts horns or flowers.  


This time the Green Man arrived, not with antlers or oak leaves, but with a German accent.


Dr. Horst Caspari came to visit from the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, traveling to hold a grape pruning seminar at my bosses’ trial vineyard.  Well, vineyard is used loosely here, since the little planting can’t be bigger than 100 vines, but Horst didn’t mind – he came to ensure that we would tend these grapes with care.  horst2


 After explaining the steps to cordon train and spur prune a vine for best fruit production (discussed in my recent Denver Post article), he set about demonstrating both pruning and training of grapes on the Front Range, where rollercoaster temperatures menace the plant with winter kill. 


Clipping the canes of last year’s growth so rapidly the pieces flew across the group, Horst became a buzz saw of trimming, keeping up a patter of talk on how to prune for the long life of the vine.  With grapes, it seems that hoping for the best but planning for the worst is the goal.


“You need to keep three to four trunks growing from the base of the plant at all times,” he said “and they have to be different ages.  That way, if one is killed back you still have two or three.  Winter kill can take a trunk easily but it’s rare – very rare – for you to lose all three or four trunks at once.”


Grasping the young, untamed vine, he snipped a few of the wildly growing shoots off, ending up with two older cordons (main arms) and one year-old cane left sprouting from the bottom of the plant.  If the plant is on its own root, a shoot from below the soil is fine to keep, but if it’s a grafted plant, nip that shoot off – it won’t be the same type of grape.  tie to postyoung canes and older cordons


Tie the canes to your support pole to give them the idea to grow upright to your wires or trellis by wrapping them loosely with soft plastic ribbon.  When the canes reach a wire stretched four to five feet above the ground, lay them over along it, tying them to keep them in place. 


On older grapes, the key to continued fruit production is to pick a shoot which grew last year from close to the “head,” or trunk, where the two cordons split from each other.  Leave this long – about ten to fourteen buds, then prune all other shoots along the old cordon to two buds.  tie canes to wire


Lay the long young cane on top of the older cordon and let both grow for the season.  Next year, cut off the old arm at the head and tie this new cane to the wire support.


When going out to tame your own grape, don’t be afraid to prune it hard, Horst said.  “Grapes are very forgiving.  We can train them in a lot of different ways.”

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Reader Nancy has reminded me of my promise in my Boulder Camera column to post the timing of watering for common garden vegetables, and here it is.  This is an excerpt from Colorado Master Gardener training material, written by David Whiting, Carl Wilson, and myself.

Remember**how much water you give your plants depends on your soil type, amount of organic matter in the soil, and plant size. 

Critical watering periods for vegetables. You can target the timing and amount of water to add. As a rule of thumb, water is most critical during the first few weeks of development, immediately after transplanting, and during flowering and fruit production. The critical watering periods for selected vegetables follow:

  • Asparagus needs water most during spear production and fern development.
  • Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi and cauliflower need consistent moisture during their entire life span, especially during head or root development. Water use is highest and most critical during head development.
  • Beans have the highest water use of any common garden vegetable, using 0.25 to over 0.50 inches of water per day. Beans need water most when they are blooming and setting fruit. When moisture levels are adequate the bean plant is a bright, dark grass green. As plants experience water stress, leaves take on a slight grayish cast.
  • Carrot and other root crops require consistent moisture. Cracking, knobby and hot flavor root crops are symptoms of water stress.
  • Corn needs water most during tasseling, silking, and ear development. Yield is directly related to quantities of water, nitrogen and spacing.
  • Lettuce and other leaf vegetables need water most during head development. For quality produce these crops require a consistent supply of moisture.
  • Onion family crops require consistent moisture and frequent irrigation due to their small, inefficient root system.
  • Peas need water most during pod filling.
  • Potato tubers will be knobby if they become overly dry during tuber development.
  • Tomatoes, peppers and eggplant need water most during flowering and fruiting. Blossom-end-rot (a black sunken area on the bottom of the fruit) is often a symptom of too much or too little water. Watch for overwatering.

Cucumbers, summer and winter squash, and other vine crops need water most during flowering and fruiting. Watch for overwatering.

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What is going on with our weather?  Did Mother Nature wake up and realize she’d forgotten to send winter our way, and think “Oops!  Better late than never”? 


There was a hard frost on the car this morning and I had to dodge icicles around the eaves of the house.  The poor daffodils, bravely lifting their heads between snow storms, are fairing little better than the hyacinths, which gave up and lay prostrate from cold. 


Vegetable seeds sown in balmy March are refusing to germinate, no doubt muttering under the soil about humans and their stupidity in pushing the seasons.  My agastache is now swaddled in an ice cave, cocooned like Superman in his arctic Fortress of Solitude.  agastache in iceagastache under ice


Here it huddles, protected in a small space created by warmth from the soil. 


Fortunately we don’t have deer – a plant’s equivalent of Lex Luthor – to menace the mini plant.  But with the weather predicted to remain unsettled for another week, the plant better lay low to avoid injury.


How annoying.  Snow I can take, bring it on, the plants love it.  But freeze and ice are another matter.


I expect the effects of such a cold snap to nip the tender young rose leaves, just pushing out from the canes.  If not completely frozen off, the leaves will look blackened and frostbitten in just a few days.  Fortunately, most plants have the ability to leaf out again, but many more incidents like this and we’ll be purchasing replacements.


Fruit trees in bloom are going to provide plenty of shade this year, the blooms killed by the low temps.  Many perennials will be fine, as long as you haven’t removed their mulch yet, and if you’ve cut back your grasses, don’t worry.  They’re tough enough to take the frost.


This is nature’s reminder to keep lawn sprinkler turned off a little while longer and limit watering to the warmest parts of the day. 

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If you’re thinking about putting in raised beds for your garden, you might have wondered about the safety of treated lumber for the walls. You are not alone.

The strangely green chromated copper arsenate wood, which used to be on the market, was taken off (voluntarily, so you may see some still for sale), leaving us to ponder alternatives. Plastic, rock, and raw lumber are all good choices, but if you’re considering the new treated lumber, I’d like to share a bit of information with you.

The wood is treated with alkaline copper quaternary, which is free of arsenic but has higher amounts of copper in the treatment. Information provided by the EPA on ACQ says that this treatment should be stable in Colorado soils, because we are fortunate to have dry, highly alkaline soils. Items in our soil do not break down, they petrify.

ACQ is only compromised in chronically moist soils with high organic matter. In such a soil, the copper migrates from the wood and into the surrounding soil, particularly during the first seven months of exposure. The extent of this migration of copper is approximately six inches from the wood.

Let’s do some thinkin’ here. If copper leaches under chronically moist, high organic matter type soils, vegetable gardens might pose some risk;  after all, we deliberately try for four to five-percent OM.  And, of course, we keep moisture consistent. So, the copper has a better chance of leaching in this system.

Second, let’s look at the size of our raised beds – typically we make them four feet across so that short-armed people like myself can reach the center of the bed. If the copper leaches six inches into the bed, we eliminate a full foot of growing space. That is, if the plant cooperates and only extends its roots into the ‘good’ soil, and not the ‘bad’ soil. But we know plants won’t do this – it’s ridiculous to assume they’ll stretch their roots out, dip a toe into the bad soil and pull back without reaching further.

Copper is taken up by plants and stored in roots, so root veggies would be risky in this system. But you could line the bed with a heavy-duty, weather resistant plastic. Or you could go with untreated lumber that, though not permanent, lasts 10 years.

Your choice.

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