Monthly Archives: May 2016

Cross One Off the Bucket List: Trial Garden Planting at CSU

Lavender Charme was one of many show-stopping verbenas that we planted.

Lavender Charme was one of many show-stopping verbenas that we planted.

Since becoming a Colorado master gardener in Denver in 2003, I’ve regarded Colorado State University as the mother ship and the CSU trial gardens as the mecca of master gardenerdom.

Last year, I moved from Denver to Fort Collins, and transferred my gardenership from Denver County to Larimer County. This fortunate relocation made it possible for me to volunteer to help install the 2016 annuals trial garden at CSU—something I’ve dreamed about since my first visit to the garden several years ago. Just imagine getting to examine and touch all of the most recent varieties of flowers as you nestle them into the ground.

There’s a lot riding on trial gardens for growers and research professionals. These folks want to find out how well the newest varieties will perform in Colorado’s growing conditions. Toward the end of each growing season, CSU evaluates more than 1,000 annuals varieties on their appearance, growth habits, tolerance of environmental conditions, and other criteria. Then the university publishes a report on its findings on its trial gardens website.

CSU research associate David Staats (kneeling) explains the planting process to Larimer County master gardeners, including (from left) Jim Carroll, Paula Mann, Gerry Hoffman (in straw hat), Daniel Owen, Craig Seymour and Karen Halberg (hidden behind Jim).

CSU research associate David Staats (kneeling) explains the planting process to Larimer County master gardeners, including (from left) Jim Carroll, Paula Mann, Gerry Hoffman (in straw hat), Daniel Owen, Craig Seymour and Karen Halberg (hidden behind Jim).

Earlier this week, six fellow Larimer County master gardeners and I, along with several CSU horticulture students, planted about one-third of the total annuals beds under the able direction of David Staats, CSU research associate, and Sean Markovic, a CSU graduate student currently serving as the annuals trial garden coordinator. My fellow master gardeners included Jim Carroll, Karen Halberg, Gerry Hoffman, Paula Mann, Daniel Owen and Craig Seymour.

We nestled dozens of stunning varieties of verbena, coleus, geranium and dahlia, to name a few. Some of my favorites included Lanai Blue Eyes, ES Lavender Charme, and Royal Peachy Keen Superbena verbenas; Flame Thrower Spiced Curry and Flame Thrower Chili Pepper coleus; and Labella Medio Pink Eye dahlia. I look forward to seeing whether these beauties thrive in Colorado’s challenging climate.

Paula Mann and David Staats (foreground) settle verbenas into their holes, as (from left) Jim Carroll and Craig Seymour work in the background.

Paula Mann and David Staats (foreground) settle verbenas into their holes, as (from left) Jim Carroll and Craig Seymour work in the background.

To begin the planting process, we master gardeners arrived at 9am May 26 at the vacant garden site, where David provided a short planting demonstration.  Crews had already placed signs identifying each new variety and had dug two rows of nine holes each so we could install 18 plants of the same type behind each sign. A tray of plants had been carefully placed in front of each sign. Our job was to make sure the plant varieties matched the signs, and then to unpot each plant, place it in the pre-dug hole and backfill the hole. Because the soil had been amended well, we could simply use our hands, rather than trowels, for planting.

So we each gravitated to our favorite plants and went to work, yakking along the way. At noon, we took a break to enjoy the barbecue lunch prepared by Dr. James Klett, CSU professor of landscape horticulture, ornamentals, and nursery management. Jim is one of those rare individuals who understands how to recognize and reward volunteers. Master gardener volunteers don’t just get to plant the new varieties and enjoy a free lunch; they also later receive the chance to participate in the trial garden evaluation and take home leftover plants.

What began as empty beds are now rows of happy young plants awaiting viewing by hundreds of CSU students and faculty, green industry professionals, and tourists, not to mention many others.

What began as empty beds are now rows of happy young plants awaiting viewing by hundreds of CSU students and faculty, green industry professionals, and tourists, not to mention many others.

After lunch, we spent another hour installing plants. In the next couple of weeks, two more crews of master gardeners and CSU students will continue the planting process until all of the annuals are installed.

CSU’s annuals and perennials trial gardens constitute one of the top tourist attractions in northern Colorado. If you’re in the neighborhood, be sure to visit. You may find a plant that you’ll want to grow in your own garden, once the plants become available commercially.

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Filed under Landscape Design, Plant Geekiness

Garden Gizmos that You Can Make

Handles from broken shovels are just one of many options for do-it-yourself hose guides in the garden.

Handles from broken shovels are just one of many options for do-it-yourself hose guides in the garden.

Gardeners, when left to their own devices, can create not only lovely landscapes, but also the tools to maintain them.

Take hose guides, for example. They’re just what they sound like—gadgets that channel your garden hose between plants so you don’t knock the head off of a small Color Guard yucca, like I did the other day. You can buy hose guides, of course, but where’s the fun in that?

So in my garden, I use the handles of broken shovels to guide hoses. Some gardeners use spray-painted curtain rods, vintage door knobs  or even plain old stakes, among other items.

A limb spreader will separate young branches that are too close together. Remove it after the branches have positioned themselves properly.

A limb spreader will separate young branches that are too close together. Remove it after the branches have positioned themselves properly.

Another useful garden apparatus is one that I learned about from a local nurseryman. It’s a tree limb spreader. If you find that branches are too close together on a young tree, you can make a tree limb spreader, using PVC pipe, to train the branches to grow farther apart. Just buy a short piece of PVC pipe with a diameter that is close to the diameter of your tree branches. Cut the pipe to the length you need, and then, using a hacksaw and pliers, carve a notch into each end of the pipe to fit against the two branches in question. Next, pick up a free, used inner tube from your local tire store, and cut two pieces of rubber from the tube. Fold each piece in half and use them to pad the branches so the PVC notches won’t damage them. Once the tree matures and the branches assume a better position, you can remove the spreader.

For marking vegetables, I’ve found forks with corks to be a fun, versatile and inexpensive choice. On sale days at Goodwill, you can generally pick up forks for a nickel apiece. As for corks, you can easily collect them if you’re a wine drinker, but even if you’re not, you can sometimes find a sizeable bag of them for $4 at a thrift store. Because the corks are dense, I recommend placing a cork on a stable surface and positioning the fork tines above it, and then hitting the end of the fork handle with a mallet to gradually push the tines into the cork. After that, just write the name of the vegetable on the cork and stick the fork handle into the ground. If you want to get fancy, you can wrap jute around the fork and tie a bow.

As for organizing your garden tools in your garage or shed, you can use palletsPVC pipe on plywood, or simply nails in a 2×4.

There’s one more tool that I really like—a grading (landscaping) rake. Grading rakes are extremely handy for evening out loose soil in beds, as well as for spreading compost, mulch and other landscaping materials. But it’s easier and probably less expensive, in the long run, to just go out and buy one rather than to make one.

If you have any favorite gardening tools you would like to share, please leave a comment on this post.

 

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Filed under Garden Maintenance, Whimsy