FCN Blog

March of Progress

MarchTreesMarch in Colorado is a season of rapid and dramatic changes. We enter the month in a world that is, by all appearances, void of plant life, and we will bid her farewell surrounded by tulips, daffodils, and leaves popping from buds so fast it makes your head spin. While all this is going on, Fort Collins Nursery is experiencing a whirlwind of change, too.

March starts with the entire outside area of the nursery neatly tucked away for winter. Our bigger trees are stacked closely together, trunks wrapped in protective sleeves, and root balls buried in soil and woodchips to insulate them from the freezing winter air. Smaller trees, shrubs, and perennials are loaded into hoop houses where they are watered and covered with thick frost blankets to wait out the cold. Disassembled fountains wait patiently beneath tarps, pottery moves indoors, even our wagons are stacked neatly together to wait until they are needed.

As we progress through the month, spring creeps in. Days lengthen noticeably, the air gets a little warmer, and the wettest month of the year gets into full swing. Soon, we are digging out trees and setting them in rows. Tractors circulate with trailer after trailer of perennials and shrubs, carrying them to their temporary homes where they will wait to be discovered by a loving gardener. New loads of pottery arrive to join the holdouts and they all mix and mingle as they drift back outside. Likewise, fountains move back outdoors to meet their new arrivals, prepared for another season of splashing and gurgling their way from our yard to someone’s patio. Our wagons spread out across the property, but not before taking a quick stop at the service station where their handles are checked and wheels are repaired.

In so many ways, Fort Collins Nursery is its own little world. Tucked away along the banks of the Poudre, surrounded by the noise of the highway and the rough and rugged atmosphere of the surrounding industrial parks, we are blessed by the soothing elements of nature that make up our daily existence. Seemingly idyllic, but far from paradise, we bounce along through the seasons just like the trees that so resiliently go dormant and awaken each year without fail, keeping our world a little greener.

Greening up the Indoors

By Cathy Gladwin

Each year at this time, I redirect my horticultural interests indoors to my houseplants. They become the focus of my nurturing instinct until next spring. Right now they need to be dusted to improve their cell function, they need to have their dead and unhealthy leaves removed, and some plants need a different light situation to compensate for the shorter days and changing angle of the sun during the winter months. But my favorite part of this annual attention to my indoor greenery is adding a few new plants.

Perhaps this year I’ll add some refreshing fragrance to my home with a jasmine vine or a species of indoor citrus. Or I might soften my décor with a graceful fern. I have such a range of choices in the nursery’s greenhouse that it’s hard to decide, but I’ve managed to narrow it down to a few.

Citrus

The sweetly aromatic flowers of indoor citrus (Citrus sp.) are definitely worth the effort. Perhaps I’ll try a grapefruit or a kumquat tree. The glossy green leaves will enhance my indoor forest, even when not in bloom. Either needs the sunniest exposure possible in a spot away from any drafts. Well-drained soil which is allowed to dry out between waterings is essential. Towards spring I’ll feed it with a high nitrogen houseplant fertilizer. In the summer it will enjoy a location outdoors with bright indirect sunlight.

A gardenia (Gardenia jasminoides) would provide very fragrant creamy white blooms set off by dark shiny leaves. This plant requires frequent watering to keep the soil evenly moist. If it dries out just once, the leaves and developing buds will drop. A humidity tray (a plastic saucer filled with gravel and shallow water not touching the pot bottom) helps prevent bud drop. Bright indirect light is best – an east window is ideal as long as the plant is checked for water daily. Cool night temperatures (60-65°F) and weekly feedings with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants will promote blossoming.

Jasmine, a relative of the gardenia, might also freshen my home with its fragrant delicate blossoms. The jasmine vines at the nursery include Star Jasmine (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and Pink Jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum). Both need support for the dark green vines that yield delicate sweet smelling white flowers. Both require bright light with some direct sun, similar to the gardenia. (Aha – these two would make great companion plants for my east kitchen window!) Also, like the gardenia, the jasmines need constantly moist soil, the benefit of a humidity tray, and weekly feedings with fertilizer for acid-loving plants.

Some new lush green foliage plants would make my house feel cozier. An old-time favorite, Boston Fern (Nephrolepsis exaltata ‘Bostoniensis’) has always appealed to me. Its graceful arching habit makes it the perfect plant for hanging baskets or an elegant stand. Light from the north window in a cool room suits this plant (the perfect addition to my bedroom). It needs a well-drained fibrous soil, watering when the soil surface is dry to the touch, and extra humidity. Ferns are shy feeders, only needing monthly feedings at half the recommended rate of a balanced houseplant fertilizer. In the summer a protected shady location outdoors will spur lush new growth.

I’m looking forward to a few newcomers to enrich my home during the long winter months ahead. They will satisfy my need to putter with plants until the outdoor growing season arrives in spring.

This article was originally published in the Winter 1994 edition of Fort Collins Nursery’s Tree Talk newsletter and has been modified and updated.

From a Seed, a World of Good

By Jesse Eastman, Owner & General Manager

As a lifelong plant enthusiast, it’s easy for me to forget that for many people, gardening is not a lifetime dedication, it’s a hobby. Perhaps you make sure your landscape looks decent, maybe grow a few veggies (with varying degrees of success), and you do what you can to keep a handful of houseplants healthy. We’ve certainly got our fair share of die-hard plant fanatics in our midst (look for sunbaked skin, dirty fingernails, and a subtle but ever-present smile), but most people don’t consider themselves to be “gardeners.”  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned to someone that I own a garden center and heard “Oh gosh, you’d hate me then. I can barely keep a cactus alive.” In reality, though, by engaging in only the most basic of plant-related rituals, you are not only a gardener, but you’re doing immense work to keep our planet healthy, and that makes me smile.

image-for-newsletter-jan-2015Consider this: According to the North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Office, a single tree can sequester up to 1 ton of carbon dioxide over a 40 year lifetime. That means that even if you only planted a tree in your front yard to keep your homeowners association happy, you contributed to over 2,700 tons of carbon dioxide sequestration, just from trees sold at Fort Collins Nursery, and just during 2014. If you purchased a tree from us in the last 5 years, that number jumps to nearly 12,000 tons of carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere by the year 2054.

Carbon dioxide sequestration is far from the only benefit you provide to the planet when you engage in gardening. Let’s assume, conservatively, that a single vegetable plant will produce one pound of produce. If you bought a vegetable start from us this last year (this doesn’t include anything you grew from seed), you contributed to over 33,000 pounds of locally grown produce that was not shipped from a farm to a grocery store to your home – it was just right there in your yard, waiting for you.

This brings me to seeds. We were thrilled to introduce two fantastic new seed companies to our lineup in 2014: Seed Saver’s Exchange and Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. Both companies are dedicated to providing high quality heirloom seeds, and thanks to their hard work, many of you got to try some truly wonderful and unique plants that could otherwise have faded away into obscurity. Add this to the many great seed companies we already work with, and we find that during 2014, you collectively took home over 25,000 packets of seeds. With a conservative estimate of ten seeds per package, that means you brought life to a quarter of a million flowers and vegetables. In one year. Wow.

These are some awfully big numbers, and there is a really important message behind them: You don’t need to be a hardcore gardener to make a big impact. Playing with plants has a lot of benefits for you: beauty, exercise, home air purification, shade, food, etc. But if you’re convinced that your contribution to gardening is insignificant, think for a second about the part you play in the big picture. Remember the tree your HOA wanted you to plant? It will help us all breathe a little easier in 2015.

 

Are your evergreens looking yellow or brown? This might be why…

Extreme temperature changes over short periods of time during winter months can leave evergreen trees looking a little yellow and sad. There are a number of different reasons an evergreen tree might be turning yellow/brown and/or dropping needles this time of year. Sometimes it’s perfectly healthy, other times it’s not. How do you tell the difference, and what should you do? Here’s a few tips:

This pine is showing needle cast. Notice the brown needles are lower on the branch while the healthy green needles are closer to the tip.

This pine is showing needle cast. Notice the brown needles are lower on the branch while the healthy green needles are closer to the tip.

Needle Cast: If your conifer (pine, spruce, fir, or juniper) is dropping needles, it may be a perfectly normal and healthy occurrence. If the needles that are dropping are only on the interior part of the tree while the needles toward the ends of the branches are still flexible, green, and firmly attached, then your tree is going through a process called “needle cast.” This process is kind of like deciduous trees casting off their leaves every fall – the needles deepest inside the tree no longer receive much in the way of sunlight as they are shaded by the newer exterior needles, so the tree drops them. This is totally normal and you should not be alarmed.

Sun Scald: If the needles on one side of the tree are showing yellow or brown coloration, but the other side of the tree still looks healthy, it could be suffering from sun scald. The exceptionally dry winter air combined with low soil moisture and intense sun causes the needles to dry out. The damage is often only present on the most exposed parts of the tree where prevailing winds or southern sun can have the greatest impact. Often, only the tip of the needle will be discolored while the base of the needle remains green.

Some of this damage may be inevitable, depending on the location of the tree, but it can be mitigated by good winter watering (click here for more on winter watering). For particularly sensitive evergreens like boxwoods, arborvitae, and oriental spruce, to name a few, a permeable fabric like burlap can be used to wrap the plants, providing a little extra protection. Trees can also be treated with Wilt-Pruf, a product designed to give evergreen plants an added layer of protection on their needles and leaves. Generally, this type of damage is only short-term. Only in extreme cases do we start to worry about the overall health of the tree.

Freeze Damage: If your tree is dropping needles or yellowing/browning uniformly around the entire plant, there’s a chance the recent deep freeze caused such a shock to your tree that the needles were damaged.

Fort Collins Weather Nov. 2-15, 2014

Extended periods of warm weather followed by rapid temperature drops is the perfect formula for evergreen freeze damage.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is present on the tips of branches while the interior needles remain green.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is present on the tips of branches while the interior needles remain green.

When plants go through such a rapid change in temperature, they don’t have time to undergo the physiological changes that help them tolerate the cold. Cell walls can rupture when they freeze and the dry air can cause damage more easily than would otherwise be the case. In instances like this, the damage will be most prominent on the outer parts of the branches, causing the tips to discolor and lose needles while inner needles that weren’t as exposed during the freeze remain green.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is not limited to just one side of the tree.

Freeze damage on a Southwestern White Pine. Note the damage is not limited to just one side of the tree.

In these cases, the only thing to do is wait and see. It is possible that in the spring, the buds that have already formed on the tips of those branches will still produce a new candle (the  growth from which new needles emerge). We encourage you to wait to prune until you are certain a branch has died, as cutting a branch that has a healthy bud on it will result in no growth next season. You can gently pinch the buds on damaged branches to find out if they’re still healthy – a firm bud is a healthy one, while a dried out dead bud will crumble between your finger tips. In this case, as with sun scald, the best treatment is a good deep watering 2 times a month through the winter when possible.

Come spring, even if no new growth emerges, if the remaining needles are still green, you’ve still got a healthy tree. Prune away the dead branches to expose the inner needles to light, give your tree a feeding with Jirdon Tree & Shrub fertilizer, and be sure to tell your tree how much it means to you and how happy you are that it’s still alive!

Out of sight, but hard at work

mini-poinsettiasby Jesse Eastman

As days grow short and Mother Nature slips into her frosty slumber, we get a lot of questions about just what it is that we, nursery employees, do during the winter. In spring we are caught up in the crush of customers seeking the perfect plant for their yard and the vegetable that will grace their table in summer. Through the summer it is all we can do to keep all our plants watered and looking good. Autumn is consumed with end-of-season sales and putting away plants for a long winter rest. But what happens when the plants are in bed and the snow comes?

Lots of desk work
Between analyzing this year’s sales numbers, budgeting, and placing orders for next year, we spend a lot of time sitting at our desks. For a group of hardcore plant nerds like ourselves, this is a challenge. Greenhouse manager/gift buyer Troy says “since I have to spend more time at my desk it means I spend a lot less time with the plants.” On top of that, we are generally a pretty active group of people, and the slowdown during winter can be a blessing and a curse. “It’s a time to let my mind and body heal so they are ready for spring” says Brendan, the production manager. On the other hand, as Ashley, the assistant production manager points out, she really misses the exercise she gets throughout the rest of the year.

Holiday sales
It’s no mystery we sell a variety of holiday merchandise, but do you know what it takes to pull off a good Christmas season at the Nursery? We have to reorganize our store and greenhouse, set up a work area where we can decorate wreaths, build and stock our Christmas tree lot, and decorate everything. Scott, who does buying for nursery stock and garden supplies, says his favorite part of winter at the Nursery is the transformation from nursery into holiday wonderland.

Decorating wreaths is a major process every year. Did you know we sold nearly 400 wreaths last year, each and every one decorated by hand? That takes a lot of skill, patience, and hot-glue burns.

We also sell lots of poinsettias during the holidays, and they are a time-consuming plant. They break easily and must be handled with great care. They balk at cold air (why are they such a popular plant in the dead of winter?), so we have to wrap each plant before it goes outdoors, even if only for a moment. Kristen, our garden shop manager, will tell you that the most time-consuming thing she has to do during the winter is carefully wrap tropical plants. “A lot of people will say ‘It’s OK, I am going straight home.’ These people are usually wearing a jacket and forget the plants are not!”

Business as usual
Perhaps the biggest misconception about how our nursery works is that we get to just kick our feet up and sit at our desks. In fact, we have to do all the things mentioned above while maintaining a warm and welcoming retail experience for our hardy customers who still visit us throughout winter.  According to Bobby, a sales associate, in spite of everything else going on this time of year, sales and customer service still takes up a lion’s share of his time. In spite of the obvious lack of plant activity outdoors, we still keep ourselves very busy through the winter with indoor plants, gifts, décor, books, and more. We are always receiving new plants and merchandise, and it is constant effort to keep our store looking fresh and exciting.

Winter often feels like the longest season, dragging on as we slowly freeze to death. Here at the nursery, though, winter is often too short. With all the activity going on behind the scenes, spring has a way of creeping up on us. Scott has some good advice for those of you who, like me, fear spring may never return. “Spring seems so far away one day, and then suddenly it’s right around the corner.” So enjoy the winter, do your planning, decorate for the holidays, and start fantasizing about spring. It’s what we do, and it keeps us happy!

From the kitchen to the garden

By Kathy Reid

istock compost 4webI learned the phrase from my mother: “Garbage is gold.” The garbage she refers to isn’t just any old thing that ends up in the trash can. Her “gold” is the scraps that accumulate in the kitchen from the not-so-perfect leaves of lettuce to the stringy orange carrot peels and the used coffee grounds.

Yes, my mother is a composter and has been since long before it became a fashionable thing to do. As far back as I can remember, there was always some sort of receptacle under the kitchen sink filled with her soupy, sour-smelling accumulation. How often did she tell me over the years, “No, no. Not down the disposal. That garbage is gold!” For my mother is also a vegetable gardener and she learned long ago the magical power of the rich, black compost that she created from things that so often end up down the disposal or in the trash can.

As I washed the dishes the other night in my own kitchen, I contemplated the half-gallon milk cartons that line the space along the back of the sink, stuffed with banana peels, potato skins and apple cores. Nothing is wasted, for I, too, have learned the secret potential of what another might see as mere trash.

I don’t know where my mother learned the skill of turning kitchen refuse into a wonderful soil amendment, but I would guess it was from her own mother. The skill, no doubt, is as ancient as cultivation itself. Whatever the source of the knowledge, I am happy to carry on the tradition.

My mother has taught me so many things, among them the precious nature of garbage. I will think of her next spring as I marvel at the tender seedlings pushing up through the dark, rich soil of my garden. Thanks, Mom!

 

Great Pumpkin Contest winners

And the winner is … Pete Mohr with a 794-pound gourd. Mohr surpassed all other entries in Fort Collins Nursery’s annual event, taking the top prize of $500. Other winners are Margie Davis with a 350-pounder; Julie Bonneville, 307 lbs; Don Shelly, 301 lbs; and Oliver McCalmount, 199 lbs. Thanks to all who participated – we hope to see everyone back next year for more fun and an even bigger contest.

Pete Mohr took top prize with his 794-pound gourd.

Pete Mohr took top prize with his 794-pound gourd.

No such thing as “gardening season”

HerbPatioPot1by Jesse Eastman

This time of year I often hear the phrase “gardening season is almost over.” I hear it from friends, family, customers, and employees. Daylight is beginning its retreat as we slowly march into autumn, nights are cooler, and even the leaves are beginning to change colors before they succumb to the irresistible force of gravity. It truly does feel like the end of something wonderful.

The problem with this phrase is that nothing is ending. Does your passion for homegrown vegetables also end in autumn? Do roots stop growing? Does all of nature come to a screeching halt just because it will soon be too cold for petunias to bask outdoors in the summer sun? There is no end to gardening season – in fact, I would argue there is no such thing as gardening season, simply four seasons in which we garden. We do not speak of parenting season, eating season, or music season. These are things that are perpetual, ongoing, and even when we aren’t actively “doing” them, they are never far from our mind. Likewise, gardening is not a discrete period of time – it is a journey. As the external display of foliage and flowers draws to a close, the internal effort kicks into high gear as plants prepare for spring.

Every plant that goes into the ground in September is a testament to the never ending cycle of gardening. When their roots are gently lowered into the ground, they begin their own journey outward and downward, seeking out the elements of life – water, nitrogen, phosphorous, potassium – and they start the hard and strenuous work of storing these nutrients for spring. Without the sharp deep cold of winter, many bulbs would not know when to awaken in the spring. It is not an end, but rather the next step in a cycle.

Not all gardening disappears underground in the fall and winter. Perhaps it is just time to move indoors. Houseplants help us cope with the apparent desolation of winter, and many people like to grow herbs on their windowsill in the kitchen. While we sit inside dreaming of warmer days, we are engaging in the unintentional act of mentally preparing for spring. We think about our successes and failures from last year and imagine ways to improve in the year to come. Classes are a great way to keep participating in the joyful progression of gardening – Fort Collins Nursery offers a wide range of Winter Workshops in January and February for just this reason. Just as plants grow, so too grows the gardener, and that in itself is a form of gardening.

No matter where you choose to enter the flow of the eternal river of gardening, you are never too late because there is no season. All that is needed to stay afloat is the awareness of what stage of the cycle you are in, and you will easily find your way to a life full of plants, beauty, and contentment.

 

What’s Blooming? | Photo contest

If you’ve ever spent time with a nurseryman or woman, you know we can’t take five steps without finding a plant to examine, a tree to admire, or a weed to pull. We love flowers deeply and intensely, so it only makes sense that we want to see what’s blooming in your community.

Share your best photo here for a chance to win great prizes (listed below) and all the fame and glory that comes with winning a photo contest sponsored by your friendly locally-owned independent garden center!

The entry period for this contest is closed. Click here to view all the entries.

Down the walk and into the woods

GatherStrength_PlantYourHistory_WEBby Gary Eastman , Retired owner of Fort Collins Nursery

The Front Range communities of Colorado and Wyoming are set at the edge of the cold, arid high plains. This relatively treeless dry country supports a wide variety of plant and animal life, but outside of a few scattered groves along the rivers, it is hardly woodland.

Despite this treeless nature, we transform our cities into woods – the urban forests. When I step out of my Old Town Fort Collins home, I am surrounded by mature trees. As I go down the sidewalk, massive trunks, some more than a century old, flare outward as they enter the earth, cracking and heaving the walk in places. The branches meet overhead to from a nearly complete canopy above my neighborhood. I live in the woods.

As I travel outward from the center of town I pass from older to younger woods: over one hundred years from Grand View Cemetery to Old Town to the old Fort Collins High, fifty years old in Circle Drive and South College Heights, twenty in Village West, until I reach the newest additions where I observe a family, parents and children all helping to plant a tree in their front yard.

Planting a tree is hard work. Choosing the right tree and the right spot, digging the hole, mixing compost into the soil, wondering when this little tree will be big enough to climb, looking for worms in the clods of earth – everyone has an important role.

Looking around this new neighborhood I see many other newly-planted trees, starting out as small saplings on their way to becoming new additions to our urban forest. Someday these trees will shade the streets and harbor woodpeckers and owls, chickadees and squirrels.

I feel a debt of gratitude to all the men, women and children who worked so hard over the last one hundred years to make my neighborhood into woods. I, and countless others, for a hundred years to come will feel the same about this family planting today.