Plants need water – just not as much as you’d think. Many people stick to a watering schedule of about once a week for their houseplants. While this is generally a good rule to follow, you may need to change your habits in the winter. The amount of water plants use is reflected by their environments: they will use more in hot and bright locations, and less in dark or cool situations. When winter comes, days are shorter so there’s less light and we generally keep our houses cooler, sometimes not by choice.
When winter comes, we should all be reducing the frequency of watering many plants. They just won’t use it as fast as they do in the summer and this excess water will stay in the soil. This can lead to a couple of problems with your plants: Root Rot and Fungus Gnats. Root Rot is when the roots stay too wet for too long and start to rot away. And Fungus Gnats are insects that are usually more nuisance than actual problem. Here’s a great source of info on Fungus Gnats: http://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/fungus-gnats-as-houseplant-and-indoor-pests-5-584/
We still recommend checking each plant by hand before watering to make sure they actually need it. Break yourself out of your summer habits and cut back on most watering to avoid these problems.
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:
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.
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.
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!
Even though winter is here and plants are dormant they still need winter watering in our high desert climate.
We recommend thoroughly watering trees, shrubs, lawns and perennial beds at least once a month. Remember to water when temperatures are above 40 degrees, and with enough time for the water to fully soak into the soil.
Added water, along with a thick bed of mulch, will help protect plants throughout the harsh winter months.
Newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials are the most at risk. Try to water these 2-3 times a month. Fall-laid sod will also need extra moisture.
Finally, make sure that you disconnect and drain your hose after watering to avoid freezing pipes and to prolong the life of your garden hose. Please contact us with any questions.
As we reach the mid-point of summer, it is time to start planning ahead and planting seeds for fall vegetable crops like cauliflower, broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, kale, carrots and brussels sprouts. With lower levels of light, more consistent moisture, and the occasional light frost, cool weather crops can excel well into the waning days of fall. With some careful planning, you can keep your garden productive well into fall and even winter. At Fort Collins Nursery we have a number of great seed varieties from great companies like Johnny’s Selected Seeds, Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co. and Seed Savers Exchange. Before you get started it is important to know the following information:
Average First Frost
In Fort Collins, the average first frost date is October 2nd. For those of you in other surrounding areas you can look up your average first frost date through the Old Farmer’s Almanac.
Days to Maturity
To find out the best dates to plant your seeds, you will need to calculate when to plant your vegetables so they’ll mature before being killed by frost and cold. To find the optimal date, simply subtract the days to maturity from the average first frost date in your region. For example, for a vegetable like beets that take 60 days to reach maturity, you would need to plant your seeds between August 3rd based on our October 2nd average first frost. Most seed packs will list information on how many days until the crop reaches maturity. A quick Google search will also yield several examples of vegetable planting guides like this one from CSU Extension.
Certain varieties like broccoli, beans and winter squash are more susceptible to frost while kale and cabbage are more tolerant. If you’re worried about losing your crops to premature frost, you may want to choose from the more cold tolerant crops.
We generally think of spring- a time of new growth and life- as the time to plant everything including trees & shrubs. However, cooler temperatures make fall an excellent time to plant. The soil is warmer than in the spring, and many of us actually have more time to devote to planting trees and shrubs in the fall, when we aren’t so preoccupied with our annuals and vegetables. Fall is a great time to plant, because it gives your new plants time to settle in and gives them a jump start over anything planted next spring.
Trees & Shrubs
- Plant while the soil is still warm (Soil temp. 6″ deep should be above 55 degrees Farenheit) to encourage strong root growth and development. Typically, our soil maintains warm temperatures into mid-October, even after the air is much colder.
- Container-grown trees, (such as all trees available at Fort Collins Nursery), transplant much better than bare-root or recently dug balled-and-burlapped stock.
- Keep newly planted trees & shrubs well watered (but not over watered) until they drop their leaves, and then water them deeply once a month throughout the winter.
- Young thin-barked trees should be wrapped in late October/early November with a breathable wrap to prevent frost cracks, animal damage, and sunscald. Wrap the trunks with wither paper tree wrap or rigid plastic that allows for air movement. Remove the wrap no later than early/mid March. Trees that have developed the coarse craggy bark typically associated with mature trees do not need to be wrapped in the winter.
- Mulch trees with 3-4” wood chips to prevent early soil freezing.
Every Autumn, our garden shop is taken over with a diverse selection of bulbs for spring color! Tulips, daffodils, iris, narcissus, allium, crocus and more are available in a rainbow of colors. These bulbs can be planted up until the soil freezes, but shop early for the best selection! It is best to plant bulbs early in the fall so that the bulb root has time to get established, prior to the ground freezing. Bulbs prefer sandy or clay loam soil. In general, bulbs should be planted at a depth of three to four times the diameter of the bulb. If planting in a sandy soil, plant two inches deeper. Small crocus bulbs should be planted more shallowly; large allium or daffodil bulbs will be planted more deeply. Information courtesy of CSU. We also offer amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs that can be forced to bloom in the winter months. Call or stop by for availability, and chat with one of our knowledgeable staff for how-to tips. We also have all great selection of bulb accessories: gravel, vases, bulb planter tools, books and bulb fertilizers.
As the summer temperatures start to rise above 85 F., many of our plants will inevitably start to feel the adverse effects of heat stress. Heat stress occurs when temperatures are hot enough for a sufficient period of time to cause irreversible damage to plant function or development. Signs of heat stress include wilting, yellowing leaves and drying up. Plants will also drop leaves,, flowers, blossoms and fruits in an effort to conserve water. Unfortunately there isn’t much that can be done for trees and plants that have sustained heat related injury but there are several things we can do to help minimize or prevent heat injury in the future.
It is important to deal with heat stress as soon as you notice it. First, check the soil several inches below the surface to see if it is already damp. If the soil is damp but your plants still look wilted, do not add more water – many plants simply wilt in intense heat (tomatoes are notorious for this), and will perk up once temperatures drop in the evening. However, if the soil is dry, it is important to water your plants immediately (don’t wait until your next scheduled watering cycle as irreversible damage could set in rapidly). Plants in containers should be watered daily and even twice a day in extreme heat. Make sure to give them a good soaking. Trees and shrubs should be watered regularly and deeply with a long slow trickle to ensure all the moisture is absorbed into the root systems. If water is running off dry compacted dirt, give it a short watering to moisten the surface and hit it again later with a more thorough soaking once the ground is able to absorb. Applying organic mulch is a great way to lock moisture into the soil to prevent evaporation and regulate soil temperature. Shade cloth and ground covers will also provide your plants with a little instant relief.
As vegetables grow in your garden, they remove important nutrients from the soil that are necessary for development. Adding fertilizer will help replace elements like nitrogen and phosphorus to aid in growth and yield. There are many methods of fertilizing and many types of fertilizers out there so you have a number of options to achieve the desired results.
The two basic categories of fertilizer are organic and conventional (synthetic) fertilizer. Both methods will work but there are some pros and cons to consider for each. The major reason to choose an organic vegetable fertilizer is to build up your soil for the long haul. Organic fertilizers do not result in salt buildup in the soil and run a significantly lower risk of causing fertilizer burn on plants. The main disadvantage is that organic fertilizers often come with a higher price tag, and because they tend to dissipate more quickly once applied, may need to be applied more frequently. A conventional fertilizer, by contrast, may cause salts to build up in soil over time. However, many conventional fertilizers are less expensive than organics and are formulated to be slow-release, meaning one application can feed plants over a much longer time period than an organic fertilizer. As always, it is important to do some product research and read the instructions carefully before use. Consult one of our experts if you have doubts on how to use the product.
Please keep in mind that adding nutrients that are not needed can result in deficiencies of other nutrients and can damage your plants. For this reason, over fertilizing can be worse than not adding enough. The only real way to judge your soil’s needs is to have a soil analysis completed. Locally, the CSU soil lab will do an analysis for a small fee and you can pick up a free testing kit here at Fort Collins Nursery.
Now that you put in the time and effort to plant your garden, don’t forget to give your plants the additional support they need to thrive through the summer. Support structures such as garden stakes, trellises and cages encourage a healthier crop and provide many benefits to the plants like proper air circulation and additional sunlight.
For some basic rules and tips on supporting specific plants, check out this link from Burpee.
Looking for some late-summer, early autumn perennial bloomers? Add a colorful chrysanthemum to your flower bed or fall container garden! Fort Collins Nursery offers hundreds of these prolific, hardy and beautifully bushy perennials.
Mums come in a wide variety of colors, from yellow, pink, magenta, red, lavender, and more. Blooms on mums typically last for weeks providing a late-summer boost when other flowers have given out.
Fort Collins Nursery also offers a great selection of colorful asters, also a hardy late-summer and autumn bloomer. Small, abundant, star-shaped flowers tower on 2-3 foot plants, providing a nice backdrop in perennial beds.
Both mums and asters appreciate full sun, and a good dose of compost when planted. They also prefer to be watered at their base. Watering from above, onto the leaves, can encourage powdery mildew.
Pumpkins, with their edible flesh and long storage life are a warm season crop. They require a long growing season of nearly 85 days, so it’s best to start them indoors from seed. About a week after the last frost (on average May 15 along the northern Colorado front range), pumpkins can be planted outdoors. But be careful, pumpkins do not like their roots disturbed. We recommend starting them in a natural peat-pot (offered in the garden shop) that can be planted directly in the soil.
Choose an area in your garden or yard that receives plenty of sunlight, and has at least 8 ft. x 8 ft. for pumpkin vines to spread. Soil should be rich with organic matter, but not over-fertilized, which can stunt fruit growth.
Pumpkins will start to develop after blossoms are pollinated, so encourage pollinators to visit your garden with other flowering plants. Also avoid using pesticides in and around your garden, since also harm beneficial insects as well as pests.
To increase the size of giant pumpkins, pick a few nice-sized fruits and cut back the vine just beyond them. This will help all the resources of the plant to be devoted to the growth of those remaining pumpkins.
Interested in entering our annual Giant Pumpkin Contest? See our Calendar of Events and check the month of October for the exact date. Get growing!
PlantTalk Colorado – Growing Great Pumpkins
Rocky Mountain Giant Vegetable Growers
Old Farmer’s Almanac: Pumpkins
You Tube: Larry Checkon, the world record holder for the largest pumpkin