Nursery News

Native Plants for the Win

By Jesse Eastman

North Fork Valley

Over the holidays my wife and I visited western Colorado to see friends and family, and while there, I was struck by the awe-inspiring and rugged beauty of the native western landscape. Craggy snow-capped peaks loomed in the background, standing watch over the flat-topped mesas speckled with juniper and sage. Rivers in western Colorado are deceptively large, carrying the vast majority of the water that flows through our state, but providing scant drinking water for the native plants that cling to life in the dry hard soil. All in all, it’s a very sparse aesthetic presentation, and it’s one I love dearly.


Getting to see what thrives in those harsh conditions got me thinking about how our own Front Range looked before we diverted water to feed our lawns, added compost and fertilizer to feed our soil, created urban heat sinks by paving vast areas of land, and altered the ecosystem by importing (sometimes deliberately, sometimes accidentally) a myriad of non-native plants, insects, and animals. Many of these imports are wonderful – a perfectly shaped linden tree, a gaudy peony, the buzz of a honey bee – but they have a tendency to mask the beauty that thrives here naturally.

Many native plants are overlooked in landscape planning. For some people, our natives are too dull a color, not lush enough, not green enough, and evoke a barren and desolate wasteland. To me, that’s like claiming Ansel Adams photographs are dull and boring simply because they are in black and white. Native plants often don’t look all that great when they’re nothing more than young starts in pots at a nursery, looking a little awkward and scraggly until they’ve had several years to establish in a landscape, and in today’s world of instant-everything, that can seem like an eternity. If you have the patience, however, the payoff can be truly stunning.

Desert Holly (Mahonia fremontii)

Two plants that stood out to me in particular were Desert Holly (Mahonia fremontii) and Green Joint-fir (Ephedra viridis). I encountered both when I was driving on a high ridge above the Gunnison River near Delta. This area has coarse yellowish soil, receives almost no moisture, and is a rocky unforgiving place for any plant to live. On the steep slopes that fall off to the sides of the ridge both of these plants could be found growing to sizes I have never seen anywhere.


Desert Holly (Mahonia fremontii)

Desert Holly is an evergreen holly in the same genus as Oregon Grape Holly, and if you look closely, you can see the resemblance. Stiff sharp leaves, a dense compact habit, evergreen leaves that change color in the winter but cling resolutely to the branches. Unique to the Desert Holly is the foliage color and the overall shape of the shrub. A silvery-blue color in the spring and summer, leaves have turned to a purple-bronze color with the dry cold of winter. While they normally bear fruit, all the specimens I found on this trip had been grazed bare by hungry critters (most likely birds). These are one of the few varieties of broadleaf evergreen (meaning non-needle foliage) that will tolerate our bright Colorado sun and not burn to a crisp, and they are happiest in dry nutrient-poor soil. Standing alone amidst the sparse grass and small perennial plants, each bush was a dense and well-formed mass standing nearly five feet tall and eight feet wide.

Green Joint-fir (Ephedra viridis)

Green Joint-fir is a very close relative of the Bluestem Joint-fir we sell at the nursery. Both are members of the Ephedra genus, a group of plants that can be brewed into a very mild stimulant, thus its alternative name: Mormon Tea. It looks a lot like many of the plants known as Brooms, with no visible leaves to speak of, instead showing off with brightly colored stems. Ephedra viridis has green stems (viridis being Latin for green) that stand out sharply against the subtle earth tones of the wintry western Colorado plateau. Tall, narrow, and straight-stemmed, this plant juts up towards the sky, not seeming too concerned about the challenging conditions it inhabits. The Green Joint-fir is the largest native ephedra, growing slightly taller and narrower than smaller Bluestem Joint-fir, whose habit is shorter and more sprawling. A source of year-round color, either can provide a vivid and structural component to any sunny and dry landscape.

As we are entering 2018, the experience of seeing these magnificent plants thriving in such brutal conditions gives me pause to consider the beauty and utility of all our native options. This year, I’m resolved to do better with native plants. As if their unique charms weren’t enough, they are incredibly water efficient, often need minimal (if any) fertilizer, and are generally less prone to forage by animals and pest insects than their non-native counterparts.

Green Joint-fir (Ephedra viridis)

When it comes to trying to force a landscape to fit into an unfamiliar climate, I’m as guilty as anyone of ignoring the hints our regional environment gives us. I love Japanese Maples, even though they are so poorly suited for life in Colorado. I want a patch of green grass to play on with my dogs, even though a patch of slender Blue Grama and coarse Switchgrass would be more appropriate on the Front Range. I understand how much effort it takes to choose to plant a New Mexico Privet instead of a dogwood. But with a little careful planning and some patience, you can create an absolutely stunning landscape with native plants, and you’ll be glad you did. It will need less care and attention so you can devote more time to other pursuits. The Desert Holly can grow to such a magnificent specimen under the relentless western Colorado sun and the Green Joint-fir is happy growing in soil that seems incapable of supporting life, and they’ll gladly do the same in your landscape while you’re busy perfecting your tomato beds!

Winter houseplant care: A pinch of planning for a pound of pride

by Gerry Hofmann

Originally Published November 2013

LemonNow that the weather is definitely ‘fallish’ & even sometimes a bit like winter, many gardeners turn their attention to the cousins of our outdoor landscapes, namely houseplants. They manage to tide us over the cooler winter months quite nicely, if we just give them a little preventative attention.

Some plants have had a summer vacation of their own outside, enjoying the extra light & air for a few months. If you had any in this category, a couple of things to watch out for can keep trouble at bay: spraying them with tepid water, including the undersides of the leaves in the kitchen sink to dislodge any dirt.  It may also be a good idea to knock the smaller ones out of their pots to check for insects looking for a free ride inside.  Give them a good drink while you’re at it, since inside heated air is very drying, which will draw water out of the soil, too. Some leaves need removing if they have gotten sunscald or show evidence of slug or insect damage. When you trim, clean the scissors or clippers (ideally with rubbing alcohol) between cutting different plants so you are not transmitting anything from one to the other.

Most houseplants species originate in the hot, humid tropics. They are happiest in those conditions; however, that can be a tall order to replicate with our over-heated homes. Restoring some of the humidity with frequent misting along with situating plants near kitchens & bathrooms will replicate some of that.

Before looking for brand new houseplants, investigate where you are most likely to site them. Are the spots on the south or west side, where strong sunlight extends? If so, you may find the most success with succulents. These are thick-leafed plants, which are utilized to store water within.  About the only way you can kill a succulent is to overwater it.

Speaking of watering, many people take the ‘more is better’ approach with sketchy results. Especially in sealed-bottom pots, where the extra water has no place to go, too much watering prevents the roots from accessing oxygen. Basically, the plant drowns. The best way to prevent this is to limit watering to 1-2 times a week, deep-watering when you do. Smaller plants may need water more often than larger ones. (If you find a plant wilting long before this, it may be root-bound. That means that it has used up a lot of the materials in the soil, making a bigger plant & roots along the way. Find a bigger pot for it.) The easiest way to check for water is to check the soil moisture just below the surface dirt; if it doesn’t stick to your fingers, it’s pretty dry. You can also just lift the pot (unless it’s too big) to check the weight, a dry plant weighs considerably less……after a little practice you will be able to tell quite easily.

If you are in the market for a larger plant & have a sunny spot, consider a citrus plant. A lemon tree, for example, can bring an aura of the warm Mediterranean into your home, which is especially welcome during the oncoming winter months. Citrus plants are relatively care-free & pest-free and may even yield some bonus fruit. The blossoms of many smell quite sweet too. Fort Collins Nursery has a wide variety of citrus plants, including: oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruits, kumquats, tangerines, key limes, and more!


The Big Scoop on 2017 Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off & Fall Jamboree

Our 9th Annual Giant Pumpkin Weigh-Off was a huge success!  Even extremely windy conditions couldn’t keep our record breaking crowd of over 400 giant pumpkin enthusiasts away.  This year’s competition featured 23 entries in multiple categories from some of the top growers in the region.  The day’s top prize went to Marc Sawtelle from Colorado Springs, CO, making him a first time Fort Collins Nursery Weigh-Off champion.  Marc’s entry came in at a whopping 1245 lbs.!  Here is a list of this year’s winners.

Heaviest Pumpkin

  • 1st Place- Marc Sawtelle (1245 lbs)
  • 2nd Place- Jim Grande (1216 lbs)
  • 3rd Place- Joe Scherber (1118 lbs)
  • 4th Place- Gary Grande (1114 lbs)
  • 5th Place- Gary Shenfish (815 lbs)

 Field Pumpkin

  • 1st Place- Dustin Grubb

 Howard Dill (Prettiest Pumpkin)

  • 1st Place- Lance Hoffa

 Longest Long Gourd

  • 1st Place- Joe Scherber (100.5″)

Kids Division

  • 1st Place-Zach & Olivia Thayer (93 lbs)
  • 2nd Place- Byron Evans (27 lbs)
  • 3rd Place- Harper Jenkins (21 lbs)

Photo Gallery

What Story Does Your Landscape Tell?

The bride and groom cross the lawn. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The bride and groom cross the lawn. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

There exists a common misconception that there is a right way to design a landscape, that there are certain layouts, certain plant palettes, and certain color combinations that one is required to obey. The truth is that, while based on solid design concepts, too many people get hung up on these “requirements” at the cost of creativity, which can leave landscapes feeling sterile and impersonal. Given the opportunity to create something that truly expresses who you are, why restrain your yard’s potential by sticking to conventional themes? Personally, I’ve always preferred landscapes that tell you a story about the person who created them. At my brother’s wedding back in August I encountered a home that sets the standard for this idea.

Water cascades down the windmill. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Water cascades down the windmill. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The wedding was in beautiful Paso Robles, California at a charming homestead called Home Sweet Home Cottage and Ranch, operated by the Clagg family (if you’re ever in the area and can find a reason to visit, I strongly recommend it). The grounds are broken into a multitude of small vignette settings, each related to the next only in its eccentricity. There is a large central pond ringed with palm trees, a windmill jutting up from an island with water pouring from the top in a sort of 30 foot tall farm fountain. The ceremony took place in front of an outdoor bar whose walls are made up of gigantic slab cross sections of salvaged old growth redwoods. The dinner was held on a well-kept lawn seemed delicate and refined compared to its eclectic surroundings. The barn where the reception took place was decorated with all manner of old arborist tools, antique instruments, and retro neon signs. There is a tree house that

can hold 10 people perched 30 feet up among the massive sprawling limbs of a centuries-old live oak.

Redwood slabs at the altar. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Redwood slabs at the altar. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

All this peculiarity is an embodiment of proprietor of this venue, Randall Clagg. Mr. Clagg is not a typical businessman. He is an arborist by trade, a self-described recovering former hippie, and a character with a personality so unique that he’d seem unbelievable if you found him written into a comic book. Home Sweet Home is the realization of his madcap artist dreams and is always evolving to feed his constant creative hunger. If someone less charismatic had built this landscape, it might feel pretentious and forced, but at the hands of Mr. Clagg the place was drenched in authenticity. It is a pure expression of its creator’s personality, and it is wonderful.

The tree house towers over everyone. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The tree house towers over everyone. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

This authenticity is what transforms a landscape from the simple execution of a design into a magic garden. If you are planning changes to your yard, think about how you can let your creation reflect who you are. Someone who values family and friends highly might create a yard with ample room to play and entertain guests. A die-hard plant lover might tear out every last square inch of turf to make room for a specimen of every plant available. A denizen of the lunatic fringe like Mr. Clagg may never be done, starting two projects for every one he finishes.

The barn, replete with dance floor, chandelier, and neon signs. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

The barn, replete with dance floor, chandelier, and neon signs. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Regardless of how a landscape looks compared to a by-the-book design, its true merit lies in its context. If it genuinely represents its creators, it is done right. We shouldn’t be limited by the common ways of doing things. After all, each day we make tons of small decisions about the clothes we wear, the way we speak, how we spend our money, how we treat those around us. All of these small acts define us. Compared to each of these minute acts, creating a landscape is massive. It is a rare opportunity to have a canvas as big as the entire yard to express yourself. It is a canvas that literally wraps your home, it is the ultimate first impression, and if it represents you with genuine authenticity, it will always be perfect.  

By Jesse Eastman

Mr. Clagg checks the pump. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

Mr. Clagg checks the pump. Photo courtesy of Westlund Photography

From the kitchen to the garden

By Kathy Reid
Originally published October 2014

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!


Win prizes from Gus!

Meet Gus The Gnome

Gnomes have a reputation for hoarding gold and jewels. Lucky for us, Gus is a little more generous than your average garden variety gnome. From May 20, 2017 through August 18, 2017 he will be giving away Fort Collins Nursery gift cards and other great prizes to people who are intrepid enough to find him! 

Who is Gus?

Gus is the coveted prize for the highest bidder at the annual CNGA Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association(CNGA) Industry Celebration, a fund raiser for the Colorado Horticulture Research & Education Foundation (CHREF). Funds raised from this annual auction play a role in developing new leaders and applied science for the nursery and greenhouse industry. CHREF has contributed more than $217,500 to research and more than $230,400 to scholarships since the mid 80’s.

Gus is said to bring good luck to whichever bidder wins him each year, and we feel very fortunate to have him hiding out at our beautiful nursery this year!

Get Started

It’s easy to win. All you need is a camera, a Facebook or Instagram account, and a sense of adventure!

Here’s how to enter:

  1. Follow Fort Collins Nursery on Facebook or Instagram
  2. Visit Fort Collins Nursery and find Gus. He will be hanging out somewhere in our retail area. He will move around often, as gnomes are known to get curious and wander off. 
  3. Once you’ve located Gus, take a selfie with him.
  4. Share your selfie on Instagram with the hashtag #GusTheGnome or post them directly to our Facebook page.
  5. Win weekly prizes! 
  6. Enter again for more chances to win. Drawings will be held each Friday based on that week’s entries.

What you can win:

  • We have gift cards, concert tickets, and merchandise! Each Friday we will randomly select from the previous week’s entries, so visit often, find Gus, and increase your chances of winning. See Official Rules for details.


Reasons to Invest in Your Landscape

Find out how we can turn your home landscape into a beautiful investment!

First Crocus Contest

Get your crocus in focus and you could win Fort Collins Nursery gift cards!

It’s already February, which means crocus, those colorful little harbingers of spring will soon be peeking up through the frozen soil. We want to see the first crocus of 2017, so if your crocus is first, share your photo on social media and earn a chance to win!

Here’s how to enter

  • Your photo must show your crocus emerged from the soil and showing some color. The flower does not need to be open, but the bud must be developed enough that its color is apparent. 
  • You must include some sort of time stamp in the photo. Ideally, a copy of that day’s newspaper (just like in the movies!), but you can also use a partner’s phone in the photo showing a news article from that day. If all else fails, write the date on a piece of paper and include it in the photo.
  • You must share the photo on social media
    • On Facebook: Share a photo of your crocus to our Facebook page and tag it #crocusfocus2017. Be sure to make your share public so we can see it – if it’s not public, it can’t win.
    • On Instagram: Tag us (@fortcollinsnursery) and use the hashtag #crocusfocus2017
  • The very first picture shared that meets the requirements above will win a $100.00 gift card to Fort Collins Nursery. 
  • All other valid entries received from February 7, 2017, through February 28th, 2017, will be entered in a drawing for one of four $25.00 gift cards to Fort Collins Nursery. 

All entrants shall retain ownership rights for their submissions. Fort Collins Nursery reserves the right to use any works submitted for promotional or advertising purposes free of charge. Fort Collins Nursery may not sell or redistribute submitted works for any purpose other than the promotion or advertising of Fort Collins Nursery.

We’re hiring for spring!

If you love plants, enjoy helping people, and want to work on a team of friendly, fun, and motivated peers, Fort Collins Nursery has a great opportunity for you! We are a full service retail garden center. We pride ourselves in our energetic and helpful staff and provide paid training to ensure our employees can help customers succeed in all aspects of plant selection and care.  

We are now accepting applications for our 2017 season. We offer a wide array of seasonal employment opportunities, including:

  • Retail Sales
  • Cashier
  • Plant Production
  • Delivery and Planting Crew

For a listing of current job openings, click here

Beautiful Weekend for Orchids!

Orchid Obsession-2The 2016 Orchid Obsession event is now in the books.  Thanks to Hi-Country Orchid Club and Mark van der Woerd for organizing such an amazing event!  Local clubs, organizations and vendors wowed us with their beautiful displays and hundreds of orchid enthusiasts and curious onlookers strolled the greenhouse to take in the breathtaking sites and exotic fragrances.  We sincerely enjoyed hosting this event and getting to spend the weekend with the orchid clubs, American Orchid Society judges, presenters and guests!


Best of Show Awards:

Miltonia Sandy's Cove WoodlandsBest Oncidium Alliance

  • Miltonia Sandy’s Cove ‘Woodlands’ AM/AOS
  • Awarded to Sylvia Budak.




Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann BuckleberryBest Miscellaneous

  • Bulbophyllum Elizabeth Ann ‘Buckleberry’ FCC/AOS
  • Awarded to Corey Barnes




Unlabelled DendrobiumBest Dendrobium Alliance

  • Unlabelled Dendrobium
  • Awarded to Roger Stone




Blc Momilani RainbowBest Cattleya Alliance

  • Blc Momilani Rainbow
  • Awarded to Jane Arnold




Vanda Tubtim Velvet 'Perfection'Best Vanda Alliance

  • Vanda Tubtim Velvet ‘Perfection’
  • Awarded to Sherman Harrison




Photo Gallery