Thursday, January 11, 2018

Seeding Indoors and Outdoors - What and When

A very common outdoor gardening question is what plants can be propagated by seed and when. Take it a step further and ask about seeding plants indoors prior to the growing season - and the what and when gets more interesting and perhaps confusing. All answers boil down to four points of the seasonal planting windows and the plant's preferred growing conditions.
  1. Frost Dates - what are the final spring frost dates? Mother's day is often used, don't bet the farm on this date. In '07 the last spring frost was June 8. The first fall frost date - early to mid October, an average at best. We have about 150 frost-free days, give or take.
  2. Seasonal windows to plant - from early spring (possibly March, the norm is April) through mid-fall here along the Front Range of Colorado - before, around or after the final spring frost date.
  3. Does the plant prefer to grow in cooler daytime temperatures (cool-season crops) or prefer warm days (warm-season crops)? Some gardeners use a soil thermometer to guide their planting schedule. Click HERE for more information.
  4. Can the plant be seeded indoors for transplanting outdoors, seeded directly outdoors or planted as a plant?
I'll cover these four points and write about the how to direct seed indoors in a future blog. If you are using cold frames or tunnels for earlier seeding or planting. Move time frames up accordingly. Higher elevation gardeners have a later start date.
Ferris knows about the Seasonal Windows

1) Frost Dates: 
  • Most planting charts refer to seeding indoors, outdoors or planting before, near or after the final spring frost. First fall frost dates determine when mid-summer plants are seeded or planted.
2) Seasonal Windows 3) and Cool/Warm Season Plants:
  • The first cool season planting period ranges anywhere from March to the middle of May. These include cool weather loving annual vegetables like spinach, peas, lettuce, kale, broccoli, parsley (herb), Brussels sprouts and beets and cool season ornamental annuals like pansy, calendula and sweet peas. This is just a sampling of cool season, check my charts for more plants.
  • The warm season window is anywhere from mid-May to the first of July and includes annual vegetables like - tomatoes, peppers, squash and corn, herbs like basil, plus ornamental annuals - petunias, marigolds, sunflowers and cosmos.
  • Hardy perennials (long lived), shrubs and trees can be planted during the warm season period and all the way to early fall. Try to avoid planting when temperatures are extremely warm (85+). It can be done, but pay close attention to watering and providing some shade for a few weeks. 
  • Exceptions - bare root roses, plus bare root trees and shrubs can be planted almost anytime the soil is workable (not too wet) from March to late April or so. Bare root plants may look like barely alive plants with few, if any roots without a container - just a plastic or burlap wrapping. They are shipped this way - dormant, just follow planting instructions.
  • Mid-summer or the fall season is  the third planting window begins - mostly cool season vegetables that mature in sixty days or less and warm season crops that also have a shorter maturity date like summer squash, okra and basil.
  • Many perennials, trees and shrubs can be fall planted. The exceptions are conifer and evergreen plants and some perennials that are fall flowering or establish better when spring planted -agastaches are the best example.  
4) Seeding Options. You're in charge, so depending on your time, pocket book and desire to start your own, you don't even have to start seeds indoors. You can choose to direct seed your favorite plants or vegetables outdoors at the right time. OR skip seeding all together and opt for buying transplants - grown by garden centers or your friends who share.

Let's roll up our sleeves and assume you want to start seeds indoors for transplanting your new little plants outside during one of the planting windows. Good for you, seed starting at home is fun and toughens you up whether you succeed, or not. There's no failing grade - you learn from doing.

"What" do you want to start by seed indoors this year? Vegetables, herbs, annuals, and perennials are the big category choices. Within these groups there are ornamental grasses, native plants and fruits. I won't get in to trees, shrubs or roses because most are propagated by cuttings and are much easier to purchase and then plant as potted plants or bare root. 

Bare root plants are available for purchase in garden centers, they start showing up in March or so. Garden centers or mail order offer roses, asparagus, rhubarb, strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry as bare root plants.

Most cane fruit is easier to plant outside as bare root or potted plants. However, there are strawberry seeds which can be started indoors or directly seeded outdoors.
Back to "When."
No math stress needed to figure out when to start seed indoors. Simply subtract weeks from the time it takes to plant the seed indoors for it to grow to the correct size before it can go outdoors. It's important to add at least a week of time the plant will take to acclimate from being indoors under lights to living and growing outdoors, this is referred to as "hardening off" the new transplant.

Next, read the seed packet, not all companies use the exact language. Look for the phrase - When to start inside or Propagation. Time frames will be listed in weeks or days.

Let's use the easiest and most popular backyard vegetable as an example - tomatoes (warm season).

Most tomato seed packets will say they need 6-8 weeks before setting outside. Warm season vegetables shouldn't be planted until after the final spring frost, which in the Denver area can be anywhere from Mother's Day or later to early June. 

If using May 15 to plant outside. After 8 weeks growing indoors plus a week of hardening off - direct seed the tomatoes in mid March.

Continuing with "When."
Some seeds can be started in January. This short list includes plants that take longer to grow indoors about 10-12 weeks before they are ready to be transplanted outside. Here's a short list: 
  • Cool-season vegetable and herb seeds includes: artichokes, celery, celeriac, onion and leek, parsley.
  • Ornamental annuals includes: pennisetum grass, lisianthus (seeding tips), snapdragons, stock, verbena, pansies/viola, geranium, wax begonia, dusty miller, heliotrope, petunia, lobelia, ornamental peppers.
  • Perennials include: delphinium, foxglove, dianthus, echinacea (coneflower), eryngium (sea holly), tanacetum (feverfew), rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan), viola, yarrow, carnation (tender perennial) bee balm (tender perennial), sweet William (biennial, which means it flowers in its second year of growth). 
The best way to know if the plant can be seeded indoors, outdoors or planted as a plant is to read the seed packet or refer to handy charts.

Take advantage of all the great garden classes and seminars along the Front Range or in your area. This is the perfect time to learn the basics of gardening or fine tune what you already know. Click HERE for 2018 resources.

Below is an overview of our planting season and months to seed indoors, outdoors and planting. Look for my planting charts in the next blog. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Tree Treatment During Construction - Torture or Thoughtfulness

Unless you've been a recluse or out of the country for a few years, you have noticed and possibly been impacted by all the growth in Denver and surrounding areas. I hear different statistics so don't know what to believe on how many people are moving to CO each month. I've heard numbers from 1K to 10K. Add these transplants to the competitive home seller's market to the new builds (home and business) and we have a downright boom. 

What's all the fuss about a building boom? I have some fuss to discuss and it has to do with how trees are being treated while all this building is going on around them. Please, sit back and let me tell you two real life tree treatment stories.

The first is my story. 

We had the fortunate opportunity to build a new home six years ago on the same property we owned. As a gardener I was most concerned about keeping the decades old American linden tree healthy during the ten month building project and less concern about the choice of knobs for the cabinets. Plus we had a 15-year old Bosnian pine that had already proven itself to be tougher than dirt on nails that needed some care, and four more trees on the boulevard that definitely needed minding.

Our Linden August 2011
By minding a tree during construction I'm talking about protecting their extensive root system from compaction from trucks and trailers, added dirt or debris on top and of course watering care. In most cases the home owner is staying somewhere else during construction. Who has time to worry about caring for trees when a new house awaits! 

In Denver, the City Foresters' office requires that trees be fenced a certain circumference around to protect their roots, branches, etc. All good. They list watering care recommendations and no-nos about contractors taking liberties and taking down the temporary fence to move materials or parking a forklift near a tree or using the area as a holding spot for a truckload of soil or roofing materials. 

Building no-nos happen, I've seen it and it's happening now with a house on our block that is being built. The City Forester inspectors regularly check on new builds to make sure the fencing is still in place but there are no government drones to keep contractors and sub-contractors in check (thank goodness). Are home owners making the effort to protect and water their trees during construction? Some try, we tried.

Without giving you every twist, turn and detail of my story, suffice it to say it wasn't easy taking care of six trees while abiding by the building rules and regulations from the local government and water municipality. Before one foot of ground was dug in late July the very first thing on the schedule was the current water tap shut off. 

The new replacement tap for water use was only designated for the contractor during the build. That leaves the home owner in charge of watering trees by carrying buckets or sneaking contractor water at the peril of a hefty fine.

Our New House - Linden Background Oct '11
I suppose a close by neighbor could have been generous with their hose, but we didn't go there and technically that isn't legal either. The other option was hire a tree company to deep water every few weeks, but that would add more cost to the construction project. 

I wasn't going to take no from the powers to be and not be able to water six trees from August to the following May. The work around is always about the mighty dollar. We only had one choice to get the official okay to water during our construction project. We had to write a good size check to the water municipality in advance of the completion of the new house in order to use the water. Which, by the way, isn't the standard procedure. 

The norm is that the home owner starts paying for the new tap and metered water when they move in to their new house - no matter how long the building project takes place and no matter how long the trees or shrubs or any plants go without water. 

A quick search on my municipality's website didn't let me know if their rules remain from six years ago or if they allow and encourage a new tap to be installed at the beginning of the building project, which means it would be metered and easily usable by the homeowner. That is.. if the builder puts in a temporary above ground hose bib attachment so a hose and sprinkler can be connected. Our plumbing contractor added the bib in about an hour (wish I had taken a photo).

I'm not sure how many people even know about watering procedures during their home construction or re-model. And I don't want to negatively judge nice folks who simply want a new house to move in to one day. My sense is if they have not thoroughly thought about their landscape plant and tree needs or were told how easily they can be damaged or impacted during construction. If so, they might pay more attention.

In case you're wondering, the check we wrote for water usage during the build was credited for future water use. After moving in we had several months of credit from the check we had given them ten months prior. I guess that's one bright spot of these nonsense regulations.

The second story is about the healthy linden (older and taller than ours) growing in the tree lawn.

Landscape Soil Piled Next to the Neighbor's Linden
Their project began last April (2017) and to date (early January 2018) the tree hasn't been watered once - except for any scant Mother Nature moisture. The ground near and around it has regularly been compacted by heavy pieces of equipment ranging from small bobcats to very large crane trucks unloading roofing, lumber, framing and the kitchen sink. 

For some reason the front retaining wall is being installed now, maybe because the weather is so warm in early January. Or the stucco and roofers are working other job sites, it's a slow go for sure. Watching the bobcat move a tremendous amount of soil near this linden tree the other day (which no doubt included a large percentage of the tree roots) just about made me cry. Okay, call me an emotionally sensitive tree lover (ESTL), but I'll wear the badge proudly. Who is watching out for this tree? How will it manage after all the carnage and compaction?

Another Angle Showing Piled Soil near Neighbor's Linden
I might be able to answer that by what is going on with our linden today - it is stressed, very stressed, add the November 2014 polar vortex and it is anyone's guess for survival.

Six years ago I was watching our builders like a hawk to steer them and the equipment away from the linden drip line. I watered often during the building period. We even hired a tree company to deep water two to three times because we felt that it needed more water than I could manage with a hose and sprinkler. 

Even with all the construction care and my regular deep watering practices since the build, our tree is not happy. The picture below shows the major stressed areas - northwest side. Notice the early leaf drop. The entire tree's leaves have been much smaller in size than normal American linden leaves, it barely flowered last spring.  

The bottom line is we want our landscape plants, especially the trees to remain healthy for years of enjoyment ahead. I'm crossing my fingers and practicing correct pruning, care and tree watering (including winter watering), hopefully it will make it. The neighbor tree will be interesting to watch - hope it makes it too.

Our Linden October 2017

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Front Range Garden Class Resources 2018

A new garden year means a fresh start, a clean palette to dream, design and do. Resolve to sign up for some classes or workshops and get the brain energized and filled with the right stuff. Happy New Garden Year 2018, let's enjoy it together!

Denver and the Front Range is very fortunate in having many free or low cost outlets for garden classes and seminars.

Below is a list with links for ones that I know of right now. The first group - seminars, workshops and conferences charge fees unless otherwise noted

Public and botanic gardens also charge for classes. Garden center classes are often free so check their websites for more information.  
Also consider attending or joining a plant society, group or club. You will meet other friendly people. Most meet monthly, have low cost dues and offer educational seminars, garden tours and trips, plant sales and judged shows through the year. 

Check out what's offered in your community if you're not in the Denver area.  

Please check back often for updates to the lists.


Adams County CSU Extension and Brighton Shares the Harvest Spring Vegetable Gardening Classes January 27, February 24, March 31 and April 28 Brighton

CSU Extension Certified Gardener Program flexible year round online training

Community Forester Program Denver 

Composting Basics January 20, Pueblo

Food Cell Operations January 21, Golden 

Colorado Gardener Certificate Training January 25 (registration ends Jan. 19), Colorado Springs

Mountain Gardening Workshop, January 25, Georgetown, CO 

Native Plant Master Program in 2018

Cottage Food Safety Training - Dates and locations starting in January

Denver Urban Gardens Calendar of Events 

Soil, Fertilizers and Soil Amendments for Landscapes and Gardens February 1, Colorado Springs

Colorado Native Plant Society Workshop: Gymnosperms, Conifers and Pines February 3, Denver

Ag Expo 2018, February 3, Rifle

Great Backyard Bird Count (free) February 3, Golden

Farmer Training February 8, Golden

Cottage Food Safety Training February 9, Golden 

Landscaping with Colorado Native Plants Conference February 10, Denver

Colorado Fruit & Vegetable Growers Association Annual Conference, February 19 and 20, Denver

5th Annual High Plains Organic Farming Conference February 27, Cheyenne

Master Composter Training Through Denver Urban Gardens, begins in March 

Lawn and Garden Insects March 1, Colorado Springs

Weed Management for Lawns and Gardens March 8, Colorado Springs

Cottage Food Safety Training March 9, Longmont

High Plains Landscape Workshop 2018 March 10, Fort Collins

Intro to Bee Keeping March 10, Lyons, CO 

Create Beauty: A Design Workshop with Rick Darke March 14, Longmont 

2018 6th Annual Tree Diversity Conference March 15, Denver

Vegetable Gardening CSU Extension March 15, Colorado Springs

Wyoming Bee University & Bee College March 16, Cheyenne

Create a Wildlife Habitat in your Backyard, March 20, Loveland, CO

Colorado Native Plant Society Workshop: Restoring Native Open Spaces March 24, Loveland

Spring Gardening Intensive March 31, Lyons, CO 

Denver Rose Society Education SymROSEium (free with admission to DBG) April 7, Denver

Colorado Native Plant Workshop: Designing with Native Plants for Pollinators April 7, Loveland

Gardening for Success Laramie County, WY April 14 and 15, Cheyenne

Fairmount Cemetery Annual Tour of the Heritage Rose Garden June 3, Denver

Edible Flower Class September 4, Lyons, CO  

Betty Ford Alpine Gardens Vail
Butterfly Pavilion Westminster
Chester M. Alter Arboretum University of Denver
Cheyenne Botanic Gardens Cheyenne, WY
Denver Botanic Gardens
Durango Botanical Society 
The Gardens on Spring Creek Ft. Collins  
Growing Gardens Boulder  
The Arboretum at Regis University Denver
The Hudson Gardens  Littleton
Pikes Peak Urban Gardens Colorado Springs
Montrose Botanic Gardens
Plains Conservation Center Aurora
Western Colorado Botanical Gardens Grand Junction

AREA GARDEN CENTERS: too numerous to mention, please call area stores or check their websites or Facebook for their 2018 classes.


American Conifer Society Western Region

Colorado Cactus and Succulent Society
Colorado Beekeepers
Colorado Dahlia Society
Colorado Federation of Garden Clubs
Colorado Mycological Society
Colorado Native Plant Society
Colorado Water Garden Society

Community Forester Program Denver
Denver Field Ornithologists
Denver Orchid Society
Denver Rose Society
Front Range Organic Gardeners

Gloxinia Gesneriad Growers
Greater Denver Urban Homesteading Group
Ikebana Denver Chapter

Mile High Bee Club
Mile High Daylily Society
Rocky Mountain Bonsai Society
Rocky Mountain Chapter of the North American Rock Garden Society 
Rocky Mountain Koi Club
Rocky Mountain Unit of The Herb Society of America

The American Iris Society
Tropical Plant Society of Denver

Farewell Gardening Season 2017

Another year of weather wackiness, world and national escapades. Closer to home it was a good tomato year, first one in many years, so something was going my way.

Please join me in looking back on the 2017 tomato year and more.

Ah...the weather in Colorado, always a safe conversation starter.

During the first quarter of any winter season, it's fairly easy to gauge how much and how often it snows in the Denver area based on the number of times a snow blower or shovel is used. This past January through April, we used our snow blower twice, hardly worth having it tuned up this season.

In addition to being almost bone dry the month of January, we had balmy days reaching sixty degrees. February and March where such winter "lamb" months that all you needed was sun screen and a rake to start early garden clean up. In February we had close to twenty days of over fifty degrees and reached seventy-eight on February 10. In March we had eleven days in the sixties and nine days in the seventies. No need to be a snow bird and head south during the Colorado winter of '17!

It snowed in late April followed by the catastrophic hail storm on May 8 that hit the west and north areas of metro Denver. I won't forget that day. I was in Longmont and headed back to Denver later that afternoon. My volunteer supervisor cautioned me about the storm and suggested I stay in the office for awhile, good call.

Internet Photo ABC News

Once in the car I crawled home slowly, ready to turn back if needed while glued to the radio weather news and the stormy sky up ahead. And it was of those dynamic spring skies with blue directly above, powdery gray in the not so distant foreground that was butting up to the streaky, mean sky. 

Internet Photo Denver Post
I followed the storm that left devastation in its wake and ankle+ high moving rivers of hail on the highway. Sure, I had white knuckles driving that day, but nothing like the folks who were in their cars getting hit so hard by softball size hail that it shattered their windshields. BTW, car body shops still have a wait list (in to late 2018) to repair cars from this storm.

And as you can guess, gardeners cried during and after the hail storm, maybe you were one of them. I cried with you and again ten days later when our house had a direct hail hit. We had some warning so I covered my favorite plants with as many covers I had on hand. I learned during that storm that patio tables and chairs can be used over shorter plantings for a quick, easy cover. If you're worried about the table getting damaged by hail, cover it with an old blanket or tarp. Weigh it down with bricks or boards.  

Patio Table over Herb Bed 5-18-17 Storm
By June 10 we hit the low nineties and settled in to a long, hot summer. It continued in September followed by a warm October. 

Veil over Smart Pot to keep JBs off 
Our vegetable garden had a very good producing summer, not the case for many friends and gardeners who lived in other neighborhoods. Many of their tomato blossoms dried, which means less fruit. I even escaped the common tomato diseases and psyllid pest insects which often find our address. 

Japanese beetles had another banner year in our garden and many other areas, they are definitely on the move. Friends found them for the first time in parts of Arvada and Golden. If you want to read all my JB beetle woes and management hints, start here, I've written several blogs on them - Japanese beetles and here for the fall re-cap.  

The flowers and blooming shrubs and trees were happy in bloom so made us happy as well.

Maple Tree Near our House
As in 2016, this past recent fall was visually delightful - the autumn colors were prominent and long lasting. It also seemed like the fruits and seedheads on shrubs, hawthorns, crab apples and many more plants held on for weeks, which only added to the orange, red and purple fall color parade. 

Winter has finally arrived in the Denver area (the mountains are getting some snow, they need more). Snow has been spotty along the Front Range - we'll welcome any moisture to replenish our dry soils from the dry fall season. Warm days in the fifties and sixties seem to sneak in here and there between the brief cold snaps. 

Take advantage of the dry days above forty degrees to water unfrozen new plantings and south facing areas of the landscape. After you drain the hoses, head inside for a warm cup of (your choice) and peruse the 2018 garden catalogs. Dog ear the pages or bookmark the company on your toolbar. Place your orders soon but save some dollars and support your local garden retailers. Better yet, stroll on in to your favorite store, get some seeds and other garden supplies. Breathe in the moist air and dream...of you know what...spring. 😎

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Winter Arrives with Brrrr what we're going to say and feel in a day or two as we get closer to Christmas Day, the end of Hanukka and the winter solstice of 2017. Seinfeld fans may remember the episode where they celebrated Festivus, the anti-commercial celebration of the season (December 23).

It's been a joy writing my blog scribbles each week and I more than appreciate your readership. Thank you very much! Please continue to follow me as I share my garden tales in to the New Year. My prediction is it will be the best tomato year ever.....for everyone!

Look for a couple more blogs next week with my thoughts about the 2017 gardening season and the start of the 2018 list of not to be missed Front Range garden classes and events.

Stay warm and enjoy your time with family and friends.  

My Favorite Photo of Ferris, Winter 2015 

"Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart"  Victor Hugo