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cropped-dsc_0032.jpg  The depths of winter is a gardener’s favorite time, where we curl up under a lap throw and delve into seed catalogs. Each new variety or old friend is weighed and considered for inclusion in the upcoming garden; the shopping list grows along with the gardener’s contentment.

Perusing my stack of brightly colored, glossy catalogs helped nurse me through a bout of flu, distracting me from feeling sorry for myself and ensuring I didn’t drive my spouse crazy with pathetic cries for aspirin, juice, or more tissue. I thumbed the pages with vegetables to try, such as Mexican sour gherkins (tiny, one-inch fruits with sweet cucumber flavor and an almost-pickled sour tang), Lows Champion dry bean for making a sweet pot of baked beans in winter, and the stunning, conical, deep mauve-colored Kalibos cabbage.

Deep into my shopping, a new lettuce variety stopped me short. The chartreuse and maroon romaine Ruby Glow looked gorgeous and sounded delicious, yet I stopped, not because I would move mountains to have it, but because the price was astounding: $6.95 for one packet of seed. I thought it was a flu-induced hallucination.

Shock turned to anger as I turned the pages, finding more and more examples of pricey seed packets. When did the basics of gardening get so expensive? It’s not like we’re ordering a half-caff, skinny dipped, two pumps of classic, soy-based mocha latte. These are seeds, the building basics of every garden.

And when gardeners buy seeds, we buy them like it’s an addiction.  We become hunter-gatherers, ordering varieties from different companies, consulting with friends, cobbling together the perfect, unique combination of crops that fit us like a glove. I used to think we really can’t help ourselves, until this catalog arrived.

The price halted me. It got me thinking, which is never a good thing. We aren’t known for calculating the cost of seed to table, but if we did, we’d find truth in William Alexander’s the $64 Tomato book (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, $10.93). Yet I started calculating.

For that price, I could order two packets from other sources and have two different types of crops. Variety is the spice of gardening. I also know that, caught up in the frenzy of shopping at somewhat low prices, I don’t pay much attention to how many packets I’m purchasing, which is a very good marketing strategy for companies to have. Adding in shipping costs magnified the grumbling in my mind.

I continued to flip pages, not-so-silently judging the company’s pricing. In other catalogs there are pricey packets, but in general, the companies keep prices reasonable. Local companies also have sales in garden centers; we can pick up our packets from them and avoid shipping costs.

EAB PA DCNR  Think our recent cold snaps might halt the Emerald Ash borer in its tracks? Not likely, according to the United States Forest Service. Even though the polar vortexes are creating havoc on our landscapes, one place that’s still cozy is deep inside the wood of trees.

For the cold to smack the Green Menace down, temperatures have to dip to at least minus 20-degrees F inside the wood, and even colder temperatures are needed to kill higher numbers of larvae. Boulder hasn’t seen those types of low temps, so don’t count on Mother Nature giving the cold shoulder to the emerald pest this winter.

Read their report on how cold temps help stop the bug.

Doing battle with a bug threatening to destroy thousands of our trees takes patience, strategy and a variety of tools. You can throw thousands of staff hours at it. You can remove hundreds of infested trees. You can even sizzle the invaders with electrified, bug-zapping replicas of the female emerald ash borer (though effective on a testing scale, I can’t envision stringing thousands of lines of the shocking beauties throughout the trees).

But sometimes what you need is an answer both subdued and eloquent, another bug to target a thug that’s attacking our ash. Dubbed the “Green Menace,” the emerald ash borer (EAB) has been found in Boulder, and Colorado’s interagency EAB Response Team is pulling out all the stops to try and halt the spread of the insect.

With that in mind, they’re releasing wasps, but not the kind that disrupt picnics or carry toddlers off for a midnight snack. These tiny insects are harmless to humans and beasts; they’re stingless and don’t concern themselves with picnics or soda pop.

Instead, Tetrastichus planipennisi target EAB larvae as they grow under the bark of the tree, laying eggs inside their bodies for the hatching wasps to use as hosts. The growing parasitoid larvae ultimately kill their EAB hosts before they can mature. Each female wasp can lay up to 100 eggs in a single larva. 

Tetrastichus planipennisi  pupae

Tetrastichus planipennisi pupae

 More than two thousand of the wasps have been brought to Boulder already, and released through the combined efforts of the Colorado Department of Agriculture, University of Colorado, City of Boulder and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). For years, USDA has been employing biocontrols for use against EAB in the U.S., and they are providing the wasps at no charge to Colorado.

There are moments during which I suddenly have soundtrack music cue up in my head, and in this case, the snippets of the William Tell Overture distract me as I contemplate what the wasps will do. But the release itself is a tad anticlimactic: no one screams “Release the wasps!” while swarms of adults cloud the skies. Rather, the release is a quiet one; the wasps rest in their pupal stage, nestled together in wood bolts attached to trees. They’ll gradually chew their way out and fly to find their prey, quietly doing what many of us cannot: finding EAB larvae.  Climbing

It is hoped that the wasps will help suppress EAB populations in the city and manage the insect’s potential future spread, much like a hero arriving to save the day. The wasps have been released on the East Campus of the University of Colorado, in a location that offers the wasps rich hunting, as ash in this area are hard-hit by the bug.

According to a press release from the EAB Response Team, up to two additional Tetrastichus releases are planned in Boulder in the coming weeks, dependent on weather conditions. The parasitoid wasp Oobius agrili, which targets Emerald Ash Borer eggs laid in the late spring or summer, also is being considered for release here in 2015.

Like EAB, Tetrastichus is native to Asia and the USDA conducted extensive research on it in its native range before bringing it to the U.S. for testing. Once here, they conducted further testing to ensure that the wasps won’t attack other insects in the absence of EAB. They determined that the wasp prefers to hunt EAB above all else, and even if they lay eggs on non-EAB larvae, the eggs don’t survive. Due to this, the USDA determined that Tetrastichus poses little risk to other insects here.

Written by Dr. Tony Koski, Extension Turf Specialist
Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture
http://csuturf.colostate.edu       http://csuhort.blogspot.com

Lawns that are covered by flood waters, even temporarily, may be subject to various types of damage. In general, most turf species will tolerate a few days of flooding without any negative effects. However, turf that remains flooded for more than a few days (especially when it is hot) can rapidly decline due to lack of oxygen and light. Substantial turf loss can be expected after 4 days of continued submersion. Other factors associated with flooding of turf include: soil coverage, water contaminated with petroleum or pesticides, high water temperature and algae scum. The most significant long-term effect of flooding is the deposit of sediment (“muck”), primarily silt and clay, over turf surfaces. This can lead to serious soil layering problems and even death of the existing grass.

Short-Term Care of Flooded Turf
Once flood waters have receded, pick up any debris, such as wood, glass, stones, nails and other metal objects deposited on lawn areas. This debris could pose a safety hazard to mower operators and damage power mowers or other equipment later used to maintain the lawn, as well as to people and pets who may use the lawn for recreation. Remove leaves or any other material that may smother grass.

Soil (“muck”) deposited on a lawn can sometimes be removed before drying by a combination of scooping/shoveling and washing with a jet of water using a hose-end sprayer.  However, removal of soil may be impractical or impossible due to the size of the lawn area, the depth of the soil, the weight of the wet soil, and ability to move it to another location.

Soil deposits on golf greens and other sand-based turf systems (soccer, football or baseball fields) should be removed as quickly and thoroughly as possible to reduce the potential for silt and clay to move into the sand root zone, clogging the pores and reducing infiltration and permeability. The use of shovels, sweepers and water to move/remove soil deposits will reduce the potential for damage. However, these affected turf systems will likely require aggressive core cultivation and topdressing to restore and maintain acceptable infiltration and aeration.

After the Turf has Dried
It is often not possible or practical to remove deposited soil from flooded turf while it is still wet. The drying process may take two or three weeks, perhaps longer, depending on weather, soil, and drainage characteristics of the underlying soil and turf. Remediation at this point is largely dependent upon the depth of deposited soil.

Lawn repair with less than 1-2 inches of soil
Lawns submerged less than 4 days and covered with an inch or less of soil have a good chance to recover.  Assessment of potential lawn damage and recovery may not be possible until those areas have dried. Checking for new shoots emerging from the soil or the emergence of new shoots from surviving plants is a good way to make an early assessment of damage. Usually, once regrowth has begun, it will continue, although it may take several weeks before the lawn has completely filled in.

Core cultivation/aerification is one of the most important and beneficial operations conducted where soil deposits are less than an inch. When the lawn has begun to grow (green leaves begin to appear), go over the lawn 3-4 times with a core type aerifier. This will help improve overall soil structure, improve soil oxygen levels, help break up soil layering problems caused by the deposited soil and encourage recovery during the fall. The lawn should also be fertilized (using any lawn fertilizer, following label instructions for applying the correct rate) at this time (September-October).

Overseeding can also be done at the time of aerification. The aerification holes provide perfect conditions for the germination of grass seed. Lawn areas that are thin (or the entire lawn can be overseeded at this time) can be overseeded with Kentucky bluegrass or a Kentucky bluegrass/perennial ryegrass mix (tall fescue lawns should be overseeded with tall fescue seed), using a seeding rate of 5-6 pounds of seed per 1000 square feet. Rake the lawn lightly after seeding to work seed into the aeration holes. Irrigate the lawn to maintain moist, but NOT saturated, soil conditions.

Lawn repair with greater than 2 inches of soil
Lawns covered with more than 2 inches of soil may be heavily damaged, with only a slight chance of recovery. Degree of recovery will vary with grass species and depth of soil. The greater the depth of soil, the slower the recovery and the less likely the lawn will recover. If the lawn area is completely buried with many (3 or more) inches of soil, then the best strategy may be to accept that the majority of the lawn has already been severely damaged or killed and it will be necessary to reestablish a “new” lawn.

Reestablishment of a “new” lawn over a flood-damaged lawn
To reduce the future potential for soil layering to cause drainage and rooting problems for the new lawn, there are two ways of dealing with the deposited soil. One is to remove as much of the soil as possible, down to the original lawn surface. Understanding that this may be difficult or impractical, the deposited soil may be left on the lawn and rototilled into the lawn as deeply and thoroughly as possible. This, in essence, will create a “new” lawn root zone that is a mix of the deposited soil and the underlying lawn and its soil. The goal is to eliminate, as much as possible, the formation of layers in the “new” lawn root zone by thoroughly mixing the original lawn’s soil, the layer of the original, dead lawn, and the flood-deposited soil.

After leveling and firming the “new” lawn soil, it can be sodded or seeded as any new lawn would be established. Cool-season grasses can be seeded anytime between Aug. 20 and Sept. 30 (buffalograss should be seeded in April/May). Sod can also be used to provide an instant lawn. Do not sod over existing dead or buried vegetation. The old dead layer of lawn grass must be thoroughly tilled into the soil before laying new sod.

Written 18 September 2013

If you’re cleaning up your vegetable garden after the flood waters recede, consider the safety of eating produce from the garden.  If rain, and only rain, fell on the garden everything is fine, but if it was touched by or near flood water, your produce is risky-to-dangerous to consume.

Flood waters can contain sewage, pollutants such as oil, gasoline, solvents, etc., bacteria and parasites such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium, E. coli, Shigella, Hepatitis A, and a host of other unsavory contaminants.  Young children, seniors, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are at highest risk for serious effects from consuming contaminated food and should not eat any produce that was in or near flood water.

In every case where the edible portion of the plant came into contact with flood water – submerged or splashed – there is risk, regardless of whether it is above or below ground.  In many cases, there is no effective way for washing the contaminants off of the produce.

To help you sort through what to do for crops that were near to flood waters, here are quick tips:

All crops eaten raw should be discarded, such as lettuce, mustards, spinach, cabbage, collards, Swiss chard, arugula, or micro greens.  Soft fruits like strawberries, raspberries, or blackberries as well as leafy vegetables such as spinach, chard, beet tops, or kale may be impossible to clean well and must be cooked before eating; avoid eating them raw.  Because rain or sprinklers can splash contaminated soil back onto these plants and contaminants can become embedded in the leaves, stems, petioles, etc., the area is not safe for growing for 90 days, minimum.

Root crops, including carrots, radishes,  parsnips, beets, or potatoes should be washed and rinsed in clean, potable (safe for drinking) water, sanitized in a dilute bleach solution, and then rinsed in potable water.  They should also be peeled and cooked before consuming.

Make your sanitizing solution by mixing a scant tablespoon of food grade bleach, without fragrances or thickeners, to one gallon of potable water.  Wash the produce with clean, potable water, using a vegetable brush to clean in crevices.  Rinse, then dip into the sanitizing solution for two minutes, then rinse in clean water.

Peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, summer squash and other soft skinned crops that are present during the flood should be discarded.  Winter squash, winter melons, and pumpkins, with their thick rinds, can be washed and rinsed in potable water, then sanitized in the dilute bleach solution described for root crops, and rinsed.

Questions on stage of plant growth versus potential for contamination can be summed up in this very good Purdue University response from Liz Maynard, Regional Extension Specialist, Commercial Vegetable and Floriculture Crops: “Risks can be described as follows:

•Edible portion of crop present: Very High Risk.  Fresh produce is considered adulterated.

•Plant emerged, edible portion not present: High Risk.  The potential presence of microorganisms in the plant as well as in the soil could result in indirect contamination of the crop post flooding (splashing onto plant, etc.).

•Planted but not emerged: Still High Risk for reasons given above from post flooding contamination in soil.

•Pre-planting: Moderate Risk.

Soil contamination may be as dangerous as that of uncomposted manure. Tilling in the soil and a minimum of 90 days between the recession of waters and harvest are needed to reduce this risk from pathogens, but recovering soil from chemical pollutants may take longer.

To protect crops and areas not directly touched by flood water, wash your hands before and after you’re in the garden, leave your garden shoes just outside your door, and change out of clothing you wore to work the vegetable patch.

Weeds?

Weeds? (Photo credit: Cyberslayer)

Strolling the garden in the wee morning hours is a ritual for my spouse and me, one that lets us see how each plant is faring as the summer progresses. We check stems and leaves for pests, tuck in errant vines, and admire blossoms.  But when we get to the old perennial bed on the side of the driveway, excited chatter turns from new sprouts and swelling flower buds to dismemberment and destruction.

 The bed, which should be a showcase of the yard, is overrun with bindweed and thistle.  Passersby approach the riot of flowers with eagerness, only to recoil in horror at the sight of perennials being choked by weeds.  Days spent trying to get them under control only serve to make them determined to overrun the garden.

 A tug of war has ensued; during the day the weeds pop up under cover of foliage or coil around taller perennials.  Each morning, I halt in my tracks to pull them out.  Balancing a full cup of coffee while bending over to yank out weeds has become a special skill, one that my spouse admires as nary a drop of the tan liquid is lost.

 While I’m impressed with the growth of most plants at this time, the weeds are coming up faster than I can keep up.  Pulling them is a season long job.  In pursuit of weed control many gardeners abandon some rudimentary connections to the world around them, such as notifying your boss that you’ll be late – again – to the office.

 Some of the tougher weed characters in the garden may change from year to year.  This year there is Western Salsify (Tragopogon dubius), a grassy-looking biennial that is sprouting in many gardens.  Western Salsify’s grass-like leaves arise from a central stalk which, when damaged, oozes a milky sap.  Because it has a long taproot, plucking from the soil when it is very young will give the best control.

 Redroot pigweed (Amaranthus retroflexus) grows to monstrous size, often two to three feet tall with flowers that bristle with spines.  The seeds of this annual weed are tiny and rapidly spread.  Redroot pig weed can be recognized by its characteristic reddish stalk and taproot.  Pulling it when it is young will give good control.

 Perhaps the best-known and most hated weed in our gardens is field bindweed (Convovulus arvensis).  Despite being a member of the morning glory family, there is nothing ‘glorious’ about it.  It snakes through the garden.  It entwines itself through branches, along trellises, and into every nook and cranny of the area.  Pulling this plant results in a nightmare out of Greek myth – four hydra-like plants sprouting from the single plant pulled.  Stamina is required in pulling to control this plant because it must be done repeatedly and frequently, until the energy in the root system is exhausted and the plant can no longer regenerate. 

 Gardeners should beware of the sinister puncturevine (Tribulus terrestris), also called goat’s head, due to the shape of the burs.  This plant starts off cute, with many small leaflets forming a mat across the ground.  When it becomes mature, the plant’s small burs develop a chemical on them that stays in the skin after the bur is pulled off, leaving a

painful sting that lasts for quite a while.  Any plant that is known to flatten bike tires and seriously injury livestock should be removed.

 If pulling weeds to the point of obsession is not for you, mulching garden beds is a great method of weed control.  In order to control weeds mulch should be applied to a depth of four inches across the surface of the garden.  Weed control fabric, when laid underneath the mulch may help, but research is suggesting that this fabric may limit water and air from getting to roots.

In a time when water is low and worries are high, anguished gardeners watch helplessly as cherished plants succumb to drought: trees that shaded generations of family, heirloom flowers from ancestral lands, and perennial beds are withered and brown.  We need help, we need heroes; we need Superman.  Just in time, he’s back. 

Though things looked dire, our Superman didn’t withdraw to the Fortress of Solitude; western gardeners are made of tougher stuff.  What David Salman did was forge new partnerships, bringing High Country Gardens back from the ravages of its own kryptonite:  forest fires, drought, and the economy.  Teaming with American Meadows, the beloved source for tough, xeric plants is back in business, right here in Denver at Center Greenhouse.

“I’m excited about the future; in a sense, this is embarking on a new career.  I can spend more time and effort on plants, speaking, and writing,” said Salman, who is eager to work with the Vermont-based company.  “American Meadows is letting me continue my role as Chief Horticulturist; I’m responsible for the choice of plants in the catalog.  They have the marketing expertise; I’m still able to educate people, make the selections, and keep our eco-friendly focus.  Our catalog is a little smaller, but still maintains a good breadth of selection, still focused on unusual, unique, garden-worthy plants.”

American Meadows, with its emphasis on wildflowers, was a perfect fit for purchasing High Country Gardens.  “We’re excited to have High Country Gardens as a brand, because it’s something I’ve looked up to for a while,” said Ethan Platt, President.  “We have no desire to change it; it’s too good a brand to mess with.  And David is really a unique resource – we’re eager to work with him.”

Maintaining a small research facility in Santa Fe, Salman and two of his long-time growers continue to develop new plants for the western landscape, sending cuttings and stock plants here to Center Greenhouse where the plants are grown.  With its roots in Denver firmly established, the 64-year old company is a leader in propagating and growing plants for wholesale to garden centers.  “We’ve increased staff by 10 employees just for this partnership,” says Brian Yantorno, Vice-President of Center. 

Center Greenhouses’ expertise is what Salman was searching for to take over care of plants as close to his heart as family.  “These plants need specific conditions to propagate them; you can’t do it in many places, not southern California, not the east coast.  I wanted to choose the very best wholesale growers to grow the best,” said Salman, who moved his production over the past month and a half.  “It was a huge move – imagine packing up a 2-acre house with thousands of plants, then getting them re-established in the new location.”

Celebrating their 20 years, High Country is offering 20 exciting plants, featuring their 2013 Plant of the Year, Phlox ‘Perfect Pink’ (Phlox nana).  The west Texas/New Mexico native is a showcase of the glory xeric plants possess: long blooming flowers of deep pink with a white eye on a tough, long-lived plant. 

Or snap up the new hybrid Skullcap ‘Dark Violet,’ (Scutellaria) with its masses of blooms in rich, seductive tones of reddish-blue.  “Thank goodness I’m not a dog, because if I only saw in black and white, I’d be poorer for it.  That’s what caught me about this plant – the color,” said Salman, who spent 5 years developing it for the catalog.

Hummingbird lovers will flip over Agastache ‘Desert Solstice’, a flower-packed powerhouse hybrid of blooms for our feathered friends.  The orange and pink, spikes sport 50-percent more flowers than its hybrid cousin, ‘Desert Sunrise,’ and tolerates the richer soils of amended perennial beds.

Check out highcountrygardens.com for more xeric plants, or contact them at 800-925-9387 Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. mountain time.