What’s Wrong with this Leaf?

Identify What’s Wrong With Your Plants

by Sandy Swegel

What do you do when one of your plants suddenly starts looking like it’s sick.  I mentally go through a list of things I’ve seen before. Is it powdery mildew? Is that grasshopper damage?  If the plant is next door to a yard that doesn’t have a single dandelion, I might ask myself if the problem is pesticide overspray or runoff from the neighbor’s chemical use.  But I learned yesterday there’s a whole category of plant injury I don’t often think about.  Ozone or air pollution damage.

A scientist from CU-Boulder and NCAR, as part of climate change research, planted two ‘ozone” gardens in Boulder to test the effects of air pollution on plants.  Yikes!  Unseen air pollution like ozone can really hurt plants. It may just be speckling on leaves, or it might be damage that kills the plant.  Our air looks and feels clean and crisp, but our plants tell the real story that invisible air pollution can hurt plants (and us).  Ozone air pollution especially affects plants close to the ground like watermelon, beans, even raspberries.


NASA has also done ozone research and concluded: “Ozone interferes with a plant’s ability to produce and store food. It weakens the plant, making it less resistant to disease and insect infestations.

Yikes, there’s not a lot you can do in your garden plot about ozone damage in mid-summer on plants in full sun. The plants are breathing in the ozone just like you are.  Some plants are more susceptible than others so if you live in an area with a lot of air pollution, you can grow more resistant plants.

Now when something is wrong with your plants, you have to ask yourself:

Is it a fungus? Is it a pest? Is it the water? Is it the soil? Is it the air?

Photo credit



More Wildflowers

All About Wildflowers

by Sandy Swegel

The fields and meadows of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado are awash in wildflowers this year.  Lots of moisture in the Fall and Spring has turned our mountains into riots of color that started early and keeps going and going.  We, gardeners, keep playing hooky from our weeding tasks to hike along mountain meadows and enjoy the beauty of nature that doesn’t have to be weeded or watered.  We also get excited about how wildflowers make us very happy and we try to plant more of them in our gardens.

There’s a deeper story to the wildflower bloom.  It’s that we’ve actually been having longer wildflower seasons for years now.  I look at a good wildflower season as a reason to rejoice and do more wandering and hiking.  Scientists at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory looked out their windows in Crested Butte, CO forty years ago and said, “Hmmm. What’s that about?” “Let’s collect some data.”  So for the last 39 years, they sent out scores of graduate students to count wildflowers.  They recorded when the flowers first bloomed, how many flowers were produced, how long the flowering lasted, etc. Now many years later, the wildflowers are telling an important story about climate change.  Turns out we do have more wildflowers.  Almost a full month’s worth more.  The flowers bloom earlier in the Spring and last longer in the Fall.

It’s still too early to know exactly what it means that we have an extra month of wildflower season.  Clearly, this is evidence of climate change. But what it means is less clear.  We get the first bloom six days earlier than 40 years ago. That means birds and pollinators have food earlier.  But we still get the same number of flowers which means the actual amount of nectar hasn’t changed.

Up in Crested Butte, the scientists still look out and ask “Hmmm? What’s that about? Let’s collect some data.”  Graduate students still count the number of flowers in little 30 foot plots across the mountain.  A new study is putting tiny radio transmitters on hummingbirds to see how their feeding is changing.

Meanwhile, the wildflowers give us abundant beauty …and… hard data that climate change is happening, rather rapidly.

Photo Credit: www.constantinealexander.net/2014/03/rocky-mountain-wildflower-season-lengthens-by-more-than-a-month.html


Pollinator Week 2014

Celebrate Pollinators with Pollinator Week

Seven years ago the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of this week in June as “National Pollinator Week” marked a necessary step toward addressing the urgent issue of declining pollinator populations. Pollinator Week has now grown to be an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles, etc.

Often overlooked or misunderstood, pollinators are in fact responsible for one out of every three bites of food that we eat. In the U.S. bees alone undertake the astounding task of pollinating over $15 billion in added crop value, particularly for specialty crops such as almonds and other nuts, berries, fruits, and vegetables. Beginning in 2006, pollinators started to decline rapidly in numbers.

BBB Seed Company (Boulder, CO), The Colorado State Beekeepers Association, Northern Colorado Beekeepers Association, Boulder County Beekeepers Association & 16 garden centers/stores from Fort Collins, Boulder, Denver & Colorado Springs are teaming up to celebrate National Pollinator Week! We will have a Pollinator Table set up at all 16 locations during Pollinator Week June 16-22nd with pollinator literature, brochures, pollinator wildflower mixes and more. On Saturday, June 21st from 10am-2pm, some of the garden centers listed below will have a beekeeper there to answer any questions adults & children may have about pollinators, planting for pollinators, protecting pollinators, etc! Come help us Celebrate, Honor & Protect our Precious Pollinators!

So visit your local nursery or garden center during Pollinator Week, pick up some seeds or flowering plants and learn about the vital role of bees and other pollinators!

Locations in Larimer County include:

• Fort Collins Nursery, Fort Collins
• Bath Garden Center, Fort Collins
• Gardens on Spring Creek, Fort Collins
• JAX Ranch & Home, Fort Collins
• JAX, Loveland

Locations in Boulder County include:
• Flower Bin, Longmont
• JAX, Lafayette
• McGuckin Hardware, Boulder
• Harlequin’s Gardens, Boulder
• Sturtz & Copeland, Boulder

Locations in the Denver area include:
• Country Fair Garden Center- Colorado Blvd

• Nick’s Garden Center & Farm Market
• Tagawa Gardens

Locations in Colorado Springs include:
• Phelan Gardens
• Rick’s Garden Center

After the Deluge

How to Help Our Gardens Survive

by Sandy Swegel

I went out into the garden yesterday for the first time since September 10th.  I’m sure you heard of our flooding in Boulder and the Front Range area of Colorado. Back on September 11th, it started to rain here.  That Wednesday started as a welcome rain day…a break in the busy-ness of the harvest season. At the end of a day of a record breaking 1.09 inches of rain, we signed happily, “We needed the moisture.”    But that was the last normal day as one of those freakish “perfect storms” parked right over Boulder  and refused to budge. We got 72% of our annual rainfall over the next few days. No good reason….the storm just wouldn’t move on. It’s normally harvest time and we’re busy trying to get our tomatoes to ripen before killing frost. Winter squash are fattening.  We often have to do a lot of irrigating because irrigation ditches have long since dried up. Newly seeded greens and root crops are developing for Fall harvest.

No regular harvests this year.  Farmers are advised not to sell anything fresh out of the floodwater soaked fields unless it’s bleached first.  Kinda ruins the whole organic thing. But we are harvesting lots of compassion and empathy for other areas that have flooded and a new understanding for people who live in rainy areas.  We’re still full of fear and suffering over losses of home and field and livelihood, but ever so grateful for those who have gardened and farmed in flood before and shared their wisdom.

On the most mundane level, I understand the Pacific Northwest garden in a new way.  Peering into my sodden compost bin with sheets of rain pouring in, I suddenly understood what the lid was for…to keep water out.

I understand my father’s south Louisiana garden a little better.  You have to have really high raised beds to grow in because the water table is right at ground level.

I am so grateful to the the farmers and scientists of North Dakota and the Midwest.  Our ag college is daily emailing info on how to treat soil and crops and trees based on what they learned from the floods of 2011 in North Dakota and 2008 in the Midwest.  Nothing like 10 feet of water and mud in our own basements to really understand those pictures that come across the TV whenever the Mississippi River floods. But now we know how to help our trees and plants survive.

I flashback to images of mudslides in California and understand why we have to plant slopes for erosion.  A few plants don’t stop the entire mountainside from repositioning, but they can really help absorb and slow the water from steady rainfall.  Once our 100-year Creek flood got going, it just took entire trees and the three feet of soil under them, but in other places, plants and grass meadows kept the topsoil from floating to Kansas.  Sorry, Kansas.  Think of this and remember to seed your wildflower meadows and your cover crops;

We’re still in shell shock, but it was hot and sunny yesterday and the forecast is good today.  Any day now, we are going to join the millions of farmers and growers throughout time who finally wipe the mud off their brow, tear open a seed package carefully saved from floods, and plant again.

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes

Bats are Beautiful!

Why We Need to Love these Pollinators

by Cheryl Soldati Clark

There are so many misconceptions out there about bats. Bats are not evil, blood-thirsty creatures that fly  around at night trying to get caught in your hair. Bats are graceful and fascinating nocturnal creatures, which benefit humans by pollinating plants, dispersing seeds, and feeding on insect pests. In fact, we have bats to thank for pollinating over 300 species of fruits that we eat, such as, bananas, mangoes and guavas to name a few. These aerial mammals fly from sundown to sunrise, visiting flowers in the darkness and ingesting their sugary nectar and protein-rich pollen. They are also excellent pest managers eating up to 1,200 mosquitoes in one hour. A long-lived mammal, in the wild, bats can live for up to 20 years.

As pollinators, bats are attracted to green, purple and dull white flowers with very fragrant, fruit-like odor. They are also attracted to musky, fermented smelling flowers because they have an excellent sense of smell. They choose to feed from large, bell or bowl-shaped flowers (1-3.5 inches) that are open at night and have copious amounts of dilute nectar. The bat forces its head into the flower, trying to reach the nectar with its long tongue. Several species of night-blooming cacti are perfect candidates for bats to pollinate. Bats may eat the pollen, stamen and anthers of certain flowers while at the same time carrying large amounts of pollen on its face and coarse fur from flower to flower. Bats travel long distances every night thus making them effective cross-pollinators of plants that are widely spaced.

Bats can be found in almost every part of the world except in extremely hot and cold climates. They live on all continents except Antarctica. You can find more species of bats where the weather is nice and warm. Bats like to roost in groups in dark and humid environments.  They also roost in different structures, such as, the underside of bridges, in caves, inside buildings, in cracks in between rocks, in mines, and in tree hollows.

Unfortunately, due to disease as well as human misunderstanding, many bat species are endangered and some have already gone extinct. Through the misuse of pesticides and habitat destruction, in the United States alone, nearly 40% of the native bat species are endangered. It is our job as human beings to protect these important pollinators by educating our children, friends and neighbors about the importance of bats and trying to eliminate the fear factor associated with these nocturnal mammals. Pollinator Week is a great time to start!

Great Bat Links:  A great video on how to safely & humanely remove a bat from your home

Build your own Bat House! Bring a Bat program into your School Other Bat links Beautiful Bat photos Bat Coloring Pages

Bat Facts

Wildflower Mixes

Grass Seed

Grass Seed Mixes