6 Ways to Reuse Halloween Pumpkins

pumpkin pile

Check out my 6 Ways to Reuse Halloween Pumpkins on the Fine Gardening magazine website.




Growing with Colorado YOGA + Life magazine

 I never thought of myself as Colorado’s Gardening Guru, but I could get used to that title!

Thanks to Sandy Ferguson Fuller and Colorado YOGA + Life magazine, I’m included in the Summer “Grow” issue. The magazine is part of the YOGA + Life family of magazines and is filled with profiles of yoga teachers and studios, fitness and wellness articles, lifestyle inspiration, recipes and ideas for adventure in our beautiful state.

I’m especially pleased to be in the same issue as the feature on the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens in Vail. Not only is it one of my favorite botanical gardens, but it’s one of the special gardens I recommend in my book, The Colorado Gardener’s Companion.

Sandy’s interview asked a lot of good questions about my background, some of my favorite things to grow in my garden, simple tips for growing prize-worthy fruits and vegetables, and ways to create a sustainable relationship with wildlife in our gardens.

She touched on how passionate I am about helping people learn how to grow their own food. And she asked me how I continue to grow in my life.

You can find all of that and more in the summer issue!



What Happens When Lightning Strikes a Tree

Lightening strike on treeIf it’s summer in Colorado, it’s time for thunderstorms. The best advice is to head indoors as soon as you hear thunder and before you see lightning.

Because lightning is attracted to tall objects, trees are a likely target. When lightning strikes a tree, damage can range from minimally invasive to explosive.

As soon as lightning strikes, water in the tree’s cells can start to boil causing steam to form. The expanding steam can explode causing bark to crack or strip off the tree.

If the lightning strikes deep within the tree, it may blow up.

The amount of damage depends on how much water is in the tree and the location of the water — either between the bark and the wood or in the tree’s center.

Evidence of a lightning strike may be obvious from shattered pieces of bark to charred areas of the trunk. But some symptoms may be hidden deep inside the tree or even in its root system. This wide range of indicators has to do with the type, structure and health of the tree; the strength of the strike; and the amount of moisture in the tree’s cells.

If your tree is struck by lightning, it may survive the hit, especially if just one side shows damage. Prune out any obviously damaged branches and remove hanging pieces of bark that can’t be put back into place. Increasing the amount of water for the tree helps with uptake of nutrients from the soil.

Then start your watchful waiting for signs of tree stress. Experts recommended waiting 2 to 6 months before major corrective pruning or removing the tree. Most times it’s not the strike that kills the tree, but the resulting injury that exposes the tree to the environment, diseases and insects. Keep up with good tree care, such as watering, fertilizing and watching for insects.

It’s better to protect trees from a potential lightning strike than it is to repair the damage afterward. Lightning protection systems can be installed to protect especially valuable or vulnerable trees. These systems protect trees by slowly releasing the electrical charge and letting it dissipate before it becomes dangerous.

Consult with a certified arborist about the pros and cons of installing lightning protection systems on your trees. Although these systems can be expensive to install for tree protection, they can also help protect nearby property. A system consists of an air terminal placed in the top of the tree, a copper cable conductor, and a ground-rod system placed a safe distance away. If lightning should strike, the system directs the electrical current along the cable, away from the tree, and to the ground.

Lightning can strike whenever there’s a thunderstorm, and the temperature of a lightning flash can be five times hotter than the sun. While it’s important to protect your trees from a lightning strike, it’s crucial to protect yourself first.



The Vertical Vantage to Gardening for Success

My “Vertical Vantage” presentation at the Gardening for Success Conference in Cheyenne is coming up April 15. Here are the main points to inspire the Laramie County Master Gardeners to grow up:


• Maximizes garden space
• Solves design dilemmas
• Hides problems and eyesores
• Frames or directs a view
• Tames a large landscape
• Unlocks a garden’s potential



simple bamboo trellisKEY VERTICAL ELEMENTS

Arbors and trellises

Walls and fences


o Layer up, not out
o Create top, bottom, middle layers
o The middle layer is the most important
o Don’t rely on flowers alone


Garden Art


• Match plant form to function: vines, attractive flowers, climbing roses, exclamation points, tall and small perennials, skinny trees, shrubs and container plants.
• Visit PlantSelect.org and search the database for plants by type, height, hardiness, flower color, flowering season and more.




How to Grow Microgreens Indoors

Here’s a delicious indoor gardening project to keep you busy until it’s time to plant outside.

It’s easy to grow a container of microgreens indoors. If you start today, you’ll be eating fresh microgreens in about two weeks.

You’ll need these materials

  • 1 packet microgreen mix or sprouting seeds like broccoli or pea
  • 1 shallow plastic container with holes punched in the bottom (like a clear lettuce or spinach container, minus its lid)
  • 1 tray or second container to catch any excess water
  • Loose, well-draining seed starting mix or potting soil

Get growing instructions

  1. Punch holes in the bottom of the shallow container for drainage; place on tray.
  2. Fill container with several inches of soil (about 2 or 3 inches).
  3. Moisten the soil and allow excess water to drain.
  4. Scatter seeds over the top of the soil; cover with a thin layer of soil.
  5. Water gently to keep seeds from moving around in the soil.
  6. Place container on a sunny windowsill or under grow lights placed several inches above the top of the plants.
  7. Keep soil evenly moist, but not overly saturated; don’t let seeds dry out.

Look for seedlings to sprout with their first leaves in about a week.

When plants are about 2 inches tall and have one or two more sets of leaves, use scissors to clip greens.

Rinse and toss on salads, use instead of lettuce in sandwiches, sprinkle into stir fry dishes, add to omelets, or create your own special recipe.



How to Show Wild Birds Some Love

bird seed heartLove is in the air and it can swoop into your landscape with a little creative planning.

All it takes to attract wild birds to your garden is a little creative planning, especially if you can think like birds and know what they like.

I can’t imagine my garden without wild birds hopping along the path, chirping from tall trees or flying full speed across the yard.

In addition to filling feeders with different kinds of wild bird seed, I’ve planted many fruiting shrubs and perennial flowers to attract my feathered friends.

Some gardeners try to prevent sunflower seeds from sprouting in the garden, but I encourage it. Once the weather warms, masses of sunflowers spring up practically overnight–the result of filling feeders through winter. The bright yellow flowers light up the garden all summer and when the flowers fade, birds appreciate the small dried seeds that are left behind.

The seeds, fruits and flowers I plant attract a diverse group of birds. Of course there are sparrows, but I’ve seen blue jays, blackbirds, doves, finches, flickers, rock pigeons, juncos and even hawks. But each time I catch sight of a hummingbird at the Sunset hyssops (Agastache rupestris), my heart simply soars.

The tube-shaped orange flowers are a main attraction from mid-to-late summer. These hardy perennials can tolerate a dry garden once they’re established and they offer a nice root-beer like fragrance, too.

Serviceberry is a favorite shrub for the birds, especially robins. This tidy shrub is one of the first to bloom in spring and the first to provide a feast of berries. Robins also fall for the dried berries on the Virginia creeper and honeysuckle vines, too.

Another shrub that grows beautifully in my Zone 5 garden is Nanking cherry. This cold-hardy shrub features fragrant white flowers that attract bees and other pollinators in early April. Later, after the shrub is thick with green leaves, the birds and squirrels enjoy all the small sour cherries that cover the branches.

Even if your garden is a small space, like a patio or balcony, you can plant a mini-backyard habitat. Simply fill containers with a high-quality potting soil, plant with several varieties of long-blooming, nectar-rich flowers, and add a small birdbath. It won’t be long until birds start stopping by.



Happy Healthy New Gardening Year

happy face made from vegetables

January is the time of year when many folks promise they’ll change their eating habits. They resolve to make fewer stops at the fast-food drive-thru, limit the unhealthy snacks kept in the cupboard, and add more fruits and vegetables to the grocery shopping cart.

Most vegetable gardeners will tell you the easiest way to keep those promises is to plant and grow a vegetable garden.

And research backs that up.

Results from community gardening studies show that a majority of community gardeners eat more fruits and vegetables than non-gardeners. They’re more active, too.

I learned about the “Gardens Growing Healthy Communities” research project when writing an article for the February issue of Colorado Gardener newsmagazine. In that article I interviewed researchers from the University of Colorado at Boulder and at Denver Urban Gardens. The research project, funded by the American Cancer Society, will help answer the question, “Can community gardening prevent cancer?”

My interest in the relationship between planting vegetables and good health continues to grow. My most recent gardening articles include planting purple vegetables for good health on the VegetableGardener.com blog, growing winter onions for Out Here magazine, and planting for the health of it for GreenView’s Gardening How-to website.

This gardening season, I’ll be busy with more gardening + health related content, and you’re invited to come along to my Incredible Edible Yard class at the Denver Botanic Gardens, January 20, 2018, 10:30-12:00.

You’ll discover how to transform an ordinary yard into a beautiful and delicious foodscape. My class includes the simple steps for beautifying your landscape by adding fruits, vegetables and herbs in unexpected ways. You’ll learn how to integrate edible plants into flower beds, small spaces and other gardening places, as well as ways to replace conventional ornamental plants with appetizing alternatives. The dozens of design ideas, for yards of all sizes, can transform any ordinary landscape into a garden of eatin’.


Watch for the inaugural issue of Edible Denver magazine when it hits news stands in March. Look for my article with ideas for planting and growing a garden filled with healthy spring vegetables.



How to Have an Old-Fashioned Holiday

The plants we like to grow in our gardens hold special symbolism at Christmas time. Many of our favorite fruits, berries and nuts are much more than the sweet treats we enjoy in December. 

Dried orange slices are old-fashioned ornaments, first used because they look like little sun wheels that help brighten dark winter days.

Mistletoe, holly, and winterberries are some of the typical evergreens we use to decorate both indoors and outside. However, other plants helping with the seasonal celebration include all the exotic spices mixed into our holiday baking. Citrus fruits, nuts, berries, and herbs are also essential ingredients.

Plants that originated in far flung parts of the world found their way into our homes and our hearts at holiday time. It’s like a global celebration of the garden.

“Every plant’s history hangs like a treasured ornament from the world tree that gives us a home in the universe,” writes Christian Ratsch in the preface to his fascinating book called Pagan Christmas.

Have you ever noticed how many Christmas ornaments and decorations are either made from or made to look like apples, acorns, cranberries, popcorn, and nuts? These symbols of the garden have been used as decorations for hundreds of years because of their value as food sources in winter.

People showed their love of hazelnuts by decorating them with features and hanging them on trees to symbolize little angels. When used as Christmas decorations, walnuts were considered a symbol of both fertility and immortality.

Oranges, pomegranates and lemons also have a long history of being used at holiday time. These fruits originated in the Mediterranean region and represented their grower’s prospects for a good harvest for the year.

Orange pomander balls, decorated with whole cloves, added fragrance to freshen the air when hung from mantels and trees. Dried orange slices are still fashioned into ornaments because they look like little sun wheels that help brighten dark winter days.

As you get ready to celebrate the holidays, think about all the plants that bring us so much joy this time of the year: vanilla, cinnamon, chile peppers, cloves, anise, cardamom, and most especially the cocoa fruit and all its many forms of chocolate.



Rosa Blanca Brothers Win 2017 Weird Veggie Contest

Two eggplants with personality from North Carolina take the top prize in the 2017 Weird Veggie & Funny Fruit contest. Congratulations to Romelle Peterson for growing these guys! 

Weird Veggie winner 2017

“You mess with the little red guys, you mess with the Rosa Blanca Brothers!!”

Romelle also deserves special recognition for entering this tomato that looks like a catcher’s mitt. And another tomato that resembles a Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtle. There sure must be something funny in that North Carolina water!

“Strike 3 ‘Mater!”

Second place goes to this crazy crop of carrots from Utah gardener Nancy Dixon:

Knot quite sure what these carrots had in mind.”

The third place winner is this optimistic tomato grown by Philip Fei in his New Jersey garden:

“Thumbs up from my tomato!”


Thanks to all the good-natured vegetable gardeners who entered this year’s contest! Entries came from around the country and included odd apples, twisted carrots, curly chile peppers, an inside out tomato, a pepper with ears and more. Some will surely end up in the Weird Veggie & Funny Fruit Hall of Fame.

The winner gets the grand prize of a selection of top gardening books and other gardening goodies. The runners-up receive a selection of vegetable and herb seed packets to get a start on their weird veggies for next season.

See you next year!



Got Weird Veggies or Funny Fruit for 2017?

It’s time for the ninth annual Weird Veggie & Funny Fruit photo contest sponsored by WesternGardeners.com! The contest celebrates all the oddball produce grown in vegetable gardens, like these Pepper Pants. (See past winners: Weird Veggie & Funny Fruit Hall of Fame.)

Anything funny growing in your garden?  Here’s how to enter:

  1. The contest begins on August 21 and ends September 22 at 10:00 p.m. Mountain Daylight Time.
  2. Send (in focus) digital photos of your home-grown, crazy-looking fruit or vegetable to Jodi @ WesternGardeners.com. A limit of 3 images per person, please.
  3. Give each entry a silly descriptive name; include your city and state; the contest is open to gardeners residing in the U.S.
  4. The winner will be notified by email on September 25.
  5. First place gets the top prize; runners up receive something, too.

By entering the the 2017 Weird Veggie & Funny Fruit contest, you grant WesternGardeners.com permission to use the submitted photos for promotional purposes during or after the contest, with attribution, but without compensation. For more information, post your question here or email Jodi @ WesternGardeners.com.


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