Monday, December 15, 2014

Do It Yourself Home Energy Assessment

Kurt Jones, Chaffee County Extension Director

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire; Jack Frost nipping at your nose…During this season of sharing, maybe you think about giving yourself a gift.  How about a gift that can keep repaying you for years to come!  Did I mention this gift for you is available at no charge?

Many Colorado State University Extension Offices have a new set of tools to loan out to aid you in conducting an audit of energy use (and waste) in your home. Part of our Home Energy Audit Loan program (HEAL), these tools include:
·         thermal leak detector that can help you find air leaks and gaps in insulation; 
·         Kill-a-wattTM power monitor to measure excessive appliance electricity use or find ‘phantom loads’ that use electricity even after the appliance is turned off;
·         ‘flicker checker’ that detects the presence of inefficient magnetic ballasts in long fluorescent tube lighting (commonly found at commercial locations or in shops).

These HEAL program kits can be borrowed for free for up to two weeks (depending on demand). Although the tools can be used individually, results will be even more powerful if used in conjunction with CSU Extension’s online Do-It-Yourself home energy audit worksheets and supporting online videos (

The home energy assessment worksheet is mobile device-friendly, so you can carry the device (smart phone or tablet) around the home as you objectively evaluate the energy efficiency of your home, or you have the option of printing the blank worksheet, conducting your energy evaluation, then completing the online version after your assessment.  Following the evaluation, you can email the results to yourself to help you plan future energy efficiency and weatherization upgrades.

The worksheet will give you an overall score (based on 100 points) for your home, and offer suggestions for improving your energy efficiency.  There are many low-cost or free modifications that may be appropriate for your home, and additional resources for further evaluating the high-cost items such as window replacement or furnace replacement.  While this self-evaluation does not replace a professional home energy audit, it can provide the homeowner with valuable feedback for their homes.

Another program that will be coming up is the Colorado Energy Masters’ program in March and April, 2015.  More information and registration is available at

Other CSU Extension energy resources include decision tools to help you determine if your property is a good candidate for solar or wind energy, fact sheets, and other publications.  Workshops can be scheduled for local groups, organizations, and teachers on energy efficiency, solar, wind, and a standards-based curriculum for Colorado middle and high schools. Visit to learn more.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

O’ Christmas Tree, O’ Christmas Tree…How are you grown?

Posted by: Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension
Photo credit: Bert Cregg, Associate Professor, Dept of Horticulture, Michigan State University

Ahhhh…the holiday season. There’s nothing quite like it. Crazed shoppers, long lines to mail packages, cookies and eggnog, family and friends, and the pillar of many homes—the Christmas tree in the living room.

If you’re a diehard fan of the fresh-cut Christmas tree, have you ever really thought about how it’s grown? What it takes to go from seed to tree to living room? There’s a lot to the process, which may surprise you. As much time and effort goes into producing your Christmas tree (which you keep for about a month) as the linden you planted in your front yard.
Christmas trees growing for a future holiday season
(Photo by Bert Cregg)
In the United States, most Christmas trees are produced in Oregon and 92% of the trees grown in the state are exported. Other top producing states are North Carolina and Michigan. In 2013, Oregon harvested 6.4 million trees growing on 63,000 acres of land. The predominate species grown in the Pacific Northwest are Douglas-fir and Nobel fir, with their gorgeous, soft, green foliage and perfect pyramidal shape (after some pruning, of course). Sadly, our state tree, the Colorado spruce, while beautiful, is not a great Christmas tree specimen, since its sharp, stabby needles make decorating painful. (Trust me on this. I once made a wreath from spruce branches. The wreath looked fabulous, but bleeding during the holidays is not fun.)
A field of Douglas-fir (Photo by Bert Cregg)
Here’s the thing…to produce a 6’ tree it can take as long as 12 years (concolor fir) or as short as 7 years (Douglas-fir). So that means trees planted this summer will not be ready for harvest, at the earliest, until 2020. That’s a long time for something that you can purchase pretty inexpensively and only keep for a month.
Balsam fir trees (photo by Bert Cregg)
It also means that for the 7-12 years your tree is in the nursery, it’s being pruned, fertilized, sprayed, watered and weeded—all of which takes labor. Christmas trees are like any other agriculture crop and are fairly high maintenance. And growers carefully plan their harvests and planting cycles to ensure they have trees to sell each year. Sadly, one grower in Washington may have lost up to 20% of their annual income due to a workers’ strike at the Port of Tacoma. Two thousand Christmas trees, bound for Hong Kong, were stuck in a shipping container at the port to make the 23 day journey across the ocean. And the Tillmans, who grew the trees, know a thing or two about it, especially since their farm provided the tree to the White House in 2004.
Young seedlings, 3-4 years old (photo by Bert Cregg)
The best seedlings are selected to grow the nicest trees. A lot of research has gone into seedling selection and development—not only for the overall look and shape of the tree, but also for resistance to insects, disease and pathogens. The most labor intensive part of growing Christmas trees is shaping and shearing. Shaping helps create a straight central leader (important so your angel or star isn't crooked!), symmetrical form, dense foliage and proper taper. There are USDA standards for Christmas tree shape and size. Shaping generally begins in the tree’s second or third growing season. Some growers start earlier as they feel it leads to less work in the future. Shearing is so important, that if a grower misses a cycle, it may lead to culling the entire crop.
Using mechanical means to shear the trees
(Photo by Bert Cregg)
And then the day comes to harvest the Christmas tree and make it the centerpiece of your holiday season. Harvesting any crop is often hectic, but for growers in the Pacific Northwest, rainy weather can often impact harvest time….plus, think of equipment driving on water-logged soils. Compaction! Growers in Washington have actually enlisted the help of helicopters to pull trees from the ground to reduce traffic on saturated soils. Trees are harvested, sorted and baled…and then shipped to a store near you. Generally the first trees arrive before Thanksgiving.
"Sling loading" Christmas trees near Olympia, WA
(Photo by Bert Cregg)

So as you sniff the fresh evergreen aroma of your Tannenbaum, take a moment to thank the hard-working grower who made sure your tree was the most perfect one in the lot. I’m reminded of the movie “A Christmas Story” and Ralphie’s dad searching for the best one…and the salesman repeating several times, “This here is a TREE!” Happy Holidays!
Replanting a seedling next to a harvested tree
(Photo by Bert Cregg)

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Little Round Worms

Posted by: Curtis Utley, Jefferson County Extension Plant Diagnostic Clinic

Have you ever seen an established pine in your neighborhood just up and die? I received some branch samples last week from a Scots pine (Pinus sylvestrus) that “just died this fall”. Now this is alarming to a homeowner and a diagnostician alike. There are many possible causes for woody plants to die outright.

Dead Pinus mugo.

One of the causes of rapid death I screen for in exotic pines is the presence of pine wilt nematodes (Bursaphelenchus xylophilus). Exotic pines are those species not native to North America such as: Scots (P. sylvestrus), Austrian (P. nigra), mugo (P. mugo) , and red pine (P.densiflora).The nematodes are vectored to perfectly healthy pine trees during maturation feeding by the pine sawyers (Monochamus spp.); long horned beetles which carry the nematodes within their bodies from an infested pine tree the beetles, as a grubs, called home the year before.
Wood chips bubbling in a beaker

 The screening process starts by taking branch samples cut close to the trunk, or better yet, trunk wedge samples. These samples are cut into ¼” inch cookies. These cookies are then cut into tiny blocks. The cubes are then put into a beaker full of distilled water and air is bubbled through the water and chips overnight. The next morning I pour the wood soup through a #45 sieve stacked on top of a #325 sieve.

Wood chips poured on top of a #45 sieve stacked on top of a #325 sieve.
Material trapped by #325 sieve.

Petri dish containing material trapped by #325 sieve.
All of the larger wood material is captured on the #45 sieve while the nematodes, if present, are washed through and captured on the #325 sieve.
All of the material captured on the #325 sieve is then transferred to a Petri dish and observed microscopically. If nematodes are present they can be seen swimming through the aqueous saw dust. Pine wilt nematode is confirmed by the structure of the male genitalia.

Pine wilt nematode Bursaphelenchus xylophilus. Sandra Jensen, Cornell University,
Check out the following links for more information on this little round worm.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The Cold Frame Corner (Part II)

Posted by: Susan Perry, Master Gardener in Larimer County

Well, a lot has happened since my last blog post.  All seemed to be going well in October/early November, although we noticed that the temperature in the lettuce/spinach box was no warmer than the outside air temperature.  Further study revealed the first (of several) flaws in our plans – the R-value of all the materials used in the cold frame really matters.  So, culled (bent) wood that doesn't have tight corners plus polycarbonate tops weren't going to do a darn thing toward keeping temperatures in the cold frames warm enough. 
Lots of good spinach and lettuce
So toward the end of October, we decided we had to revisit the use of rigid construction insulation to line the boxes.  We did that, but still no joy because (we finally figured) that all the heat was escaping via the polycarb.  Even though it is twin-wall polycarb, it just doesn't have any insulating power.  Yikes!  By now, it was Monday November 10th & the forecast said weather was moving in – a “polar vortex” that would cause daytime temps in single digits and nighttime temps below zero.  Uh oh ….. when I left the house for a salvage company east of Loveland that had some Styrofoam on Craigslist, the temperature was in the 50s.  By the time I was loading a few pieces of Styrofoam into my car, the temperature had dropped at least 15 degrees and the wind had picked up, and by the time I got home, it was even colder. 
Beets inside and outside the cold frame.
We shifted into almost panic mode – we needed to do whatever necessary to keep the lettuce/spinach alive.  The ground around the carrots, beets, & leeks would not freeze in a week of cold temps so we focused on the two lettuce/spinach boxes.  We lined each box with two strands of incandescent indoor/outdoor Christmas lights, covered the lettuce/spinach w/floating row cover, put the polycarb tops on, put a flannel sheet, then a quilted moving blanket, then a sheet of plastic weighed down with rocks.  Then we went inside.
Using Christmas lights to increase the heat inside the frame.
The two strands of Christmas lights per box worked.  At the highest, before we figured out how to make best use of the lights, the temp in the box got to 70 degrees.  We needed to be sure the air temp didn’t drop below about 30 degrees.  With the lights, it didn't seem like a precise approach, so we just made sure to keep the cold frame temps in the mid-30s.  There were a couple of middle-of-the-night temperature checks.  Finally, we noticed a pattern:  the box would heat up rapidly till it got close to it’s maximum temperature, then even with the lights still on, it just wouldn't get warmer; and when we unplugged the lights, the temp would drop to 50 degrees, then take 8 -10 hours to get down to 39 degrees.  This led us to conclude that we could plug the lights in before going to bed & unplug them in the morning.  Even better was when we got the lights on a timer, because we could have the lights turn on an hour or two after we went to bed & go off an hour before waking and all would be well.

The brutal cold finally moved east so we were able to make some additional modifications.  We’re not keen about using rigid insulation, but we made tops for the beet & carrot boxes just until we got something better worked out.  And the leeks …. well, we never got them protected at all & despite having the most cold tolerant variety possible, well they were toast (or should I say mush?).  We've salvaged what we could, sautéed & froze it for future use in soups.  But that was a disappointment, but not really a surprise.  The height of the leeks, even if we trimmed the tops off, was still an obstacle to constructing a decent cold frame that would work.
Root crops during "polar vortex".
Where are we now?  We’re testing space blankets in the lettuce/spinach boxes instead of floating row cover plus flannel sheet plus quilted moving blanket plus plastic sheeting.  So far, it looks like it’s a great alternative.  The space blanket reflects the heat from the (now) single strand of Christmas lights in each box.  We've devised wickets for each box & have tried to make tabs on the space blankets so we can attach them to the wickets and slide them open & closed in morning and evening.  Attaching the space blankets to wickets makes them easier to deal with on windy days, and means we can just leave them in the box, slid open, all day before sliding them back in the evening when we close the cold frames up.  We also were able to purchase proves for our wireless thermometers so that the foil on the rigid insulation would not disrupt the signal. 
Adding wickets and space blankets to the cold frames.
We still need to make wickets for the beets and carrots so we can use space blankets in those boxes.  We also need to get a better sense of what combination/number of Christmas lights are necessary in the lettuce/spinach boxes to keep the temps between 35 – 45 degrees regardless of how low temps go in the next “polar vortex”, which is sure to come back.  We also need to harvest all of the remaining root crops (carrots, beets, & leeks) that were outside of the boxes – always planned to be harvested first while the cold frames would be harvested last.  We’re just hoping that there’s something to salvage …. we’ll see.
We survived the cold!
So, except for the leeks, the experiment is working.  And we already have ideas for future modifications to improve the process.  Just too bad the “polar vortex” arrived so soon, before we were really ready, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Next week:  home-made ravioli using spinach from our garden!  I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Tony Koski
Extension Turf Specialist

No, Elsa, this isn’t about you..

A very frozen dandelion...still alive
Some have asked, on the heels of the recent “polar vortex” (not really…it was just a sign that winter is about that here) and temperatures hovering near zero, about how the early and abrupt cold snap might affect turf pests – weeds, fungi, and insects? The short answer (in case you want to leave now and hear Elsa sing…again) is that it likely had little effect on any turf pests – and is unlikely to affect turf pests in 2015.

There were plenty of signals (fewer hours of daylight, cooler temperatures, frost) this fall to
encourage our lawn grasses (the good ones…and the perennial weedy ones as well) to ready themselves for winter. Insects that overwinter as adults, larvae, or pupae likewise were readying themselves for diapause (insect “hibernation”). Perennial weeds like dandelion, thistle and beloved bindweed were preparing themselves for winter dormancy well before last week’s chill arrived. The spores and mycelium of fungi (it was a good fall for powdery
Knotweed (Polygonum aviculare), a summer annual,
still alive after subzero temperatures!
mildew and rust on turf) are so resistant to temperature extremes that the arrival of 0 F went unnoticed by them – so they will be back next year, without question.

Seedling downy bromegrass (aka cheatgrass) thriving in
our chilly pre-winter cold snap
Even the seedlings of our winter annual weeds - species that germinated this past late summer/fall and will complete their life cycle in the spring – appear to have been completely unaffected by the week of extreme cold. The henbit, annual bluegrass, chickweed and cheatgrass I’ve looked at in the past few days appear perfectly healthy. So, I'm sorry to dash any hopes you had about any potential benefits that the recently departed cold front might have had on the pests in your lawn. They really didn’t notice. If you had any hopes of the misnamed polar vortex eliminating some of next year's turf pests, all I can say is … let it go…let it go……..

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Aw Snap! (Cold snap, that is.)

Posted by: Alison O’Connor, Larimer County Extension

As weather forecasters were predicting our cold snap that we’re currently suffering through, I began thinking about our outdoor plants and wondering if they had hardened off. Others thought the same thing, because a recent listserv had chatter of comparing this cold snap to the Halloween Freeze of 1991. In short, the spring of 1992 proved to be fatal to many trees and shrubs, particularly Siberian elms. 
Nerd alert! Taking photos of plants in sub-zero weather.
I don’t have any elms in my landscape, but I do have many roses. And my curiosity was spurred this week by a woman who emailed asking what she could do to protect her roses. After all, ours were both still blooming and the leaves hadn’t dropped. It seems all of these things (below-normal temperatures, tender green tissue and blossoms) are pointing to one thing—likely major dieback and possibly plant death come spring 2015.

Boy howdy. That stinks. I love my roses.

I consulted with Larimer County Master Gardener and Rose Guru, Roger Heins, on his take on the subject. He expressed similar sentiments, unless people did some extra preparation (he did). I did not. But here are his recommendations for future consideration:

  1. Two or three days before the cold weather sets in (and when daytime temperatures are above freezing), deep water your roses. Actually, take the time to water all of your trees and shrubs.
  2. After the first two initial temperatures of nighttime temperatures below 30 degrees F, but before a hard freeze (<26 degrees F), pull bark chip mulch (or soil) around the base of the roses. If there is still foliage, don’t make the bark mulch too heavy…wait until leaf drop.
  3. If you have roses with long canes (one of my “shrub” roses is over 8’ tall), you can prune the canes back by 1/3 to reduce injury from snow, ice and wind.
  4. If you have blooms on the plant, remove these, as they can collect snow and ice and cause the canes to bend or break.
  5. After the roses go dormant and lose their leaves, increase the mulch depth around the base of the plants. The rule of thumb is to mulch about 6-8” up the canes. As the roses come out of dormancy in spring, remove the mulch.
  6. If you have the time and ability, you can wrap the roses in burlap.
Roses in bloom on 11/12/14.
Remember, snow isn’t a bad thing—and can act like an insulator.  But we generally can’t rely on continuous snow cover through the winter, so extra precaution is a good thing. Because my roses are an important part of my landscape, I will mulch them once I can stand to be outdoors for longer than 30 seconds. And I’ll put it on my schedule to water them once we get those glorious warm winter days. 
Snow can be a great insulator for roses.

Until then, I’ll be anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring to see how this polar vortex affects our landscapes. And keeping my fingers crossed (inside my mittens).
Not a rose! But the red arils on burning bush are beautiful.

Monday, November 10, 2014

If you can’t beat ‘em, drown ‘em

By Irene Shonle, CSU Extension in Gilpin County

Three out of my many houseplants each have mild-moderate infestations of a different insect.   My lemon verbena has spider mites, my Amazon lily has mealy bugs, and my Bay Laurel has scale.  Even though I inspected them when I bought them, it became evident in each case that the bugs were hiding in not-very-visible nooks and crannies.  And given that it wasn't that easy to find these plants, I couldn't do the sensible thing and throw them out.

While I’ve mostly kept the insect populations in check with diligent applications of neem oil spray and the occasional shower/water spray, I have never succeeded in eliminating them entirely.  I have been so frustrated that there have been times when I have sworn  to get rid of the insects even if I kill the plant doing it -- they STILL come back!   If I’m a bit negligent, the populations explode, and I have to be careful they don’t spread to my other plants (but so far, I’ve been able to quash any incipient populations on new plants). 
Frankly, I was getting sick of it! 

So, the other day, I was in the shower, and inadvertently drowned a spider.  I was astonished at how quickly it died – I had every intention of rescuing it after I dried off, but despite the fact that it was at the edge of the shower and that I take quick showers (mountain wells, you know), it still was dead when I shut the water off.   Somehow, my pre-caffeine mind made the connection between drowning spiders and drowning scales. After all,  spraying with horticultural oils works by suffocation.    I decided to submerge my whole Bay Laurel in water for a while to drown the scale insects. Since I was at the point of heaving the plant anyway, it wouldn’t be a big deal if my plant didn't survive.

I got a 5 gallon bucket, taped a plastic bag around the pot to keep the soil in, and turned in upside down in the water, submerging the entire foliage and trunk.  I left it for 24 hours, but I suspect that was overkill.  Remember - I was frustrated!

Drowned scale on bay laurel -- the whitish residue is from the dead scale.

Over the next couple of days, it became obvious that all the scale had died.  The insects scraped off easily, or even showed signs of rot (see whitish residue on picture above).  Yippee!  It’s been about a month and a half, and I still see no signs of new scale or the tell-tale sticky honey dew they leave behind.  However, I probably should have changed the potting soil (or submerged it as well), in case there were any crawlers in the soil.  If they come back, that’s what I’ll do.

After the fact, I checked to see if others recommend it, and did find it in a few places here and there, but it's surprisingly seldom mentioned, especially within Extension (for example, horticultural oils and syringing are recommended here amongst other methods, but not submerging:  Obviously, this would only work for plants small enough to submerge, and succulents might not appreciate it. Otherwise, it seems like a cheap and non-toxic method to try.

Here goes my lemon verbena - next up is the Amazon lily!