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Monday, November 23, 2009

Sharing the Spirit of the Season

One of the best things about the holiday season is taking time for caring and sharing and letting other people know how much they mean to us. This is at the heart what's become a holiday tradition for all of us at Tagawa's: the Trees for Troops program.

Trees for Troops supplies fresh-cut Christmas trees to members of the military and their families. For every $20 donation, Tagawa's and other members of Garden Centers of America donate the remaining cost of a full-sized Christmas tree. FedEx will deliver the trees for free--by land and by air--to more than fifty American military bases in the United States and overseas.

The National Christmas Tree Foundation, and its charitable wing, the Christmas Spirit Foundation, started the Trees for Troops program just four years ago. Since then, Trees for Troops has provided real Christmas trees to more than 50,000 men and women in uniform..... or in many cases, the families they've left behind while they were deployed. The Trees for Troops goal this year is to provide 15,000 beautiful, fragrant trees free-of-charge to brighten the holidays for people who give so much all year long.

Tagawa Gardens is the only garden center in Colorado participating in the Trees for Troops program, but we would also encourage your support for the only other Trees for Troops outlet in Colorado. It's at the Cherry Creek Calvary Temple Church at University and Alameda. We're happy to join them in Trees for Troops and our mutual goal of honoring members of the American military. Together, Tagawa's and Cherry Creek Calvary Temple can help Coloradoans extend a simple but heart-felt "thank you" to the men and women who help keep our country safe.

Donations for Trees for Troops will be collected through December 6th. The trees will be packed up and sent on their way December 7th... in plenty of time for Christmas.

Making a donation to Trees for Troops is one of many reasons to come to Tagawa's this time of year. A huge variety of more than 1,000 fresh Christmas trees has begun to fill our indoor tree lot. The fragrance alone is amazing!

We also have fresh wreaths and garlands to give your home an old-fashioned holiday touch. And we'd urge you to try creating your own "Porch Pot," using specially-harvested "spruce tops," and greenery such as Princess Pine and Incense Cedar. This mid-western tradition has made its way to Colorado. Tagawa's is proud to have Rob Proctor from 9News offering several classes in porch pots and other holiday decorations. Check our website http://www.tagawagardens.com/ for the schedule and details.

And we can't forget the poinsettias! An entire section of Tagawa's is filling up with the reds... the rich winter whites and soft pinks of this wonderful holiday plant. We'll be bringing in more than 4,000 poinsettias for you to choose from.... tall, small and in-between.

Don't miss sharing part of your "Spirit of the Season" with your friends at Tagawa's. Say "thanks" to someone serving in uniform. And know that we wish you and your family the best the holidays have to offer.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Help! My trees are turning brown!!

I really should know better by now. As a Master Gardener, I was trained long ago that conifers (such as pine, spruce and fir...) drop some of their needles on a regular basis. The trees generally don't shed needles every year, as deciduous or leafy trees do. Depending on the species of tree, most conifers usually lose their interior needles every two to five years.

But YIKES! Even knowing all of that, I still did a double-take and caught my breath when I saw one of my thirty-foot Ponderosa pines seem to change overnight. The crew in Tagawa's Nursery Department is hearing the same thing: "Help! My trees are turning brown!"

Tagawa's staff is quick to let these tree-loving folks know that they probably don't need help, and neither do their trees. This type of needle-shed is normal, and most likely there's no reason to use any insecticides or other chemicals. Let's take a closer look.

Like deciduous trees that drop their leaves every fall, healthy conifers put on new growth each year. The tree grows up and out, with clusters of new needles at the tips of the branches. But the trees won't keep these new needles forever.

Take my Ponderosa pine, for example. The needles that have just turned brown are the oldest needles..... three years old, to be exact. That's how often Ponderosas shed. The dying needles are on the inside of the tree, closest to the trunk. These old needles are now shaded out by the newer growth, and quite simply, the tree doesn't need them anymore. So with alarming suddenness, they fade to the color of straw and dry up. The first time we have a strong windstorm, they'll blow off, and the tree will look lush and healthy again.

But the change really does seem to happen overnight, or close to it. And it can be understandably alarming.

So how do you know if your conifer trees are going through a normal fall shed, or have a genuine problem? Here are some things to look for:

*** Normal needle shed will always be on the inside of the tree. It will
discolor those interior needles fairly evenly throughout the tree as
a whole... not just in one part of the tree.

*** Unless the tree has been stressed by drought or other conditions that
could have damaged the roots, normal needle shed will usually occur
in late summer or early fall. Serious stress issues could prompt a tree
to shed its needles earlier. It's the tree's way of calling "uncle" for the

*** If the tree is healthy, the new growth on the tips of the branches should be
supple, green and full, not brittle or discolored.

Trees that have been attacked by the dreaded mountain pine beetle have a different look. These doomed pines (pines only) will often show "pitch tubes" on the trunk.... white or pinkish popcorn-looking areas where the tree has tried to flush out the invading beetle.

Mountain pine beetles fly in late summer. Obvious signs that they've attacked a tree generally won't show up until the next year. I notice the dying trees most often in July, when the summer heat really kicks in and the tree's stored energy finally isn't enough. (It's genuinely amazing how long a sick or damaged tree can look "normal," just running on stored energy. )

A pine beetle attack will often give the entire tree an orangish or reddish cast as it fades and dies. There are ways to protect your most valued pines against this destructive insect. Talk to the folks in Tagawa's Nursery Department or Dick's Corner for details.

But don't mistake a normal late-summer needle shed on your conifers for an invasion of anything harmful. And by all means, don't automatically reach for the insecticide with the mistaken notion that you "just need to spray something." Odds are, you don't.

And remember that with all of our spring rain this year, conifers have put on a lot of new growth. That growth that will most likely have us doing a double-take and catching our breath when it's time for this year's needles to shed a few seasons down the road.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Trouble with Tomatoes

I knew my tomato crop wasn't doing too well. Out of my twenty-five plants (ya, I know.... about twenty too many....), some crashed by late July. Others kept on trying, but even more of them had given up the ghost by mid-August. But it wasn't until I taught a class for the Douglas County Master Gardeners that I realized how much everyone else seemed to be having problems, too.

I asked the group of fifty or so Master Gardeners how many of them were having a good tomato year. Not one hand went up. NOT ONE!! Now that's a bad tomato season. Let's take a look at what went wrong.

Problem #1: June. Yup, June. Pretty much the entire month of June worked against those of us with home-grown tomato obsessions. June was too wet and too cool for too long. My tomato plants, which were all in the ground before Memorial Day, pouted the entire month of June. Really. They just sat there. They didn't die, but they didn't grow.

Walls-o-Water would have helped protect the plants from the cool June temperatures, but I was lazy and didn't use them. Pre-warming the soil with Walls-o-Water before I planted would have helped, too. Tomatoes (and peppers and eggplant and potatoes....), don't like "cold feet." Warming the soil for several days with the Walls-o-Water is especially helpful in heavy, clay soil that tend to be slow to absorb the sun's warmth in spring.

Kris, Tagawa's Annuals Co-director, is a big fan of Walls-o-Water, and uses them in her foothills garden every spring. She tells me that as of late summer, she still has the Walls-o-Water on her plants. The plastic teepees have collapsed a bit, but her tomato plants are fine. Mine? Not so much.

The most common tomato concern customers are bringing to Tagawa's diagnostic staff at Dick's Corner is something we see every summer. "Blossom end rot" shows up every year, but it's going gangbusters this summer. It's related to our wet June weather, but didn't have to get out of hand the way it has.

Blossom end rot is characterized by a round, brown or beige leathery circle on the blossom end of the tomato.... the bottom of the fruit, opposite the stem. It's caused by a calcium deficiency just as the fruit is forming. Reaching for the fertilizer really isn't the answer. In fact, too much nitrogen can actually contribute to the problem. The best way to avoid blossom end rot is to keep the plant's roots more evenly moist.

We went from a cool, soggy June to a hot, dry July. Good drainage (well-amended soil and raised beds) would have helped with the soggy part of that equation. By the time July rolled around and the soil actually warmed up, mulching the base of the plants with something like straw would have retained more moisture. All of those techniques could have helped to avoid having the plants go from too wet to too dry. My tomatoes grow in raised beds, and I mulch with straw once the weather is reliably warm. And I try not to let the plants dry out. I didn't have a single case of blossom end rot. My tomatoes did have other issues, which I'll explain in a moment.

Blossom end rot isn't contagious. It won't spread from one plant to another. But much of the fruit that was forming at about the same time during the growing season could be effected. Watch for the first signs of blossom end rot while the tomatoes are small. Remove any fruit that shows the tell-tale symptoms, and let the plant's energy go instead toward making healtheir tomatoes.

Make sure you know how moist the soil around your tomato plants (and all plants, for that matter) really is. Poke your finger down a couple of inches, or use a water meter. Either way, when the top two to three inches of soil has dried out, water thoroughly, but don't over-water. Apply enough water to soak down to the bottom of the plant's rootball. And take it easy with the nitrogen, the first number on the fertilizer package. Nitrogen will promote lots of leafy growth. All that foliage could "steal" some of the calcium that the fruit needs more.

So what went wrong with my own plants, if they managed to escape the blossom end rot that's plaguing so many others? Why did the lower leaves turn yellow so quickly? Why did entire sections of certain plants just call it a day? Quite honestly, I think I set them up for failure. I planted earlier than I normally do, (and felt pretty proud of myself at the time....) I didn't pre-warm the soil. I didn't use Walls-o-Water or any other protection to help buffer the plants from cool temperatures that are always possible in June. And despite my best efforts over the years, including gardening in raised beds, clay soil is still clay soil. In short: I didn't anticipate potential problems from Mother Nature. Silly me.

Okay. Lesson learned. My 2010 tomato crop is already taking shape in my mind. Next year will be different!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Lovin' the Ladybugs

Gardeners all along the front range are talking about this summer's friendly invasion of ladybugs. I started noticing them on my "volunteer" crop of sunflowers about a month ago. Their numbers have been climbing eversince, and I love to see it!

Whitney Cranshaw, one of the top bug gurus at Colorado State University, says we have our wet spring to thank. All the rain triggered a lot of lush, green growth on our plants. There's nothing aphids love more than tender, succulent leaves and buds. And there's nothing ladybugs love more than aphids. It's all part of the balance that Mother Nature tries to provide when we humans don't get in the way with lots of chemicals, that take out both good bugs and bad.

Quite rightly, children are taught to love and protect ladybugs, also known as "lady beetles." They delight in finding the bright round ladybugs on plants, and recite short poems urging them to "fly away home" to their own children. Maybe it has something to do with the polka dots. Many of the more than seventy varieties of lady beetles in Colorado come with two or more distinct black polka dots on their shiney red body. Polka dots just seem a friendly sort of decoration.

But while we jump to the defense of adult lady beetles, a lot of gardeners would take one look at a ladybug pupa or larva and reach for the insecticide. The early stages of ladybugs look nothing like the charming adults.

Ladybug larva, especially, often look like the voracious predators that they are: very tiny lizard-like creatures with bowed legs and little spiney projections up and down their back. Think of the larva of any insect as its "teenaged" stage. You just can't fill 'em up, which in this case is good. In addition to chowing down on aphids, the different types of lady beetles in Colorado (both larva and adults) thrive on eating mealey bugs, insect eggs, spider mites and scale.

It's well worth getting to know a gardening ally like this in all of its stages and "outfits." Link to the CSU fact sheet on lady beetles and get to know the appearance and habits of these wonderful little insects. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05594.html Get the kids involved, too. They're never too young to learn the notion of balance in the natural world.

As long as the aphid population along the Front Range stays high, the number of ladybugs dining on them is likely to do the same. But when the food source starts to decline, the ladybugs will fly off in search of a new banquet. In the meantime, we should take delight and satisfaction in knowing that there's an army of aphid-eating insects right in our own back yard, and do everything we can to make them feel welcome. Hopefully, they'll take the hint, and come back next year.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Planting for "The Girls"

You should know from the start that I'm not the least bit objective about honey bees. I think they're simply amazing little creatures. A lot of us who are beekeepers refer to honey bees as "the girls," since all of the bees we see visiting flowers and buzzing about are females.

You may have heard that "the girls" are having a tough time of it these days. A puzzling and deadly syndrome called "colony collapse" has been taking a huge toll on honey bee colonies in Colorado and just about everywhere that bees are kept. Entire hives that seem to be healthy and thriving one day disappear the next. The bees just vanish. Scientists are working hard to find out what prompts the bees to leave home. While the researchers work to solve the mystery, there is something we can do as gardeners to help. We can plant with "the girls" in mind.

Tagawa's is ready to help throughout the gardening season with just the right plants that will give the honey bees the pollen and nectar sources they need. Bee-friendly plants make up a long list. There are choices that should suit any gardener's preferences, not to mention "the girls" tastes, too!

If you want to think big, make a long-term investment in your landscape, and treat "the girls" to some first-rate sources of pollen and nectar, think "fruit." Apple trees, crabapples, plums, cherries, grapes, strawberries and berry bushes of all kinds are high on the honey bees' hit parade. The staff in Tagawa's Nursery Department can help you make just the right choice.

Flowering vines and shrubs that contribute to a buzzing bee garden include honeysuckle, trumpet vines, Virginia creeper, lilacs, rabbit brush and Apache plume and silverlace vine. I've promised "the girls" I'll be planting some pussy willows just for them. Pussy willows bloom early in the spring and are an absolute magnet for the honey bees as they welcome the return of warmer weather.

I already have more than a dozen Russian sage bushes getting ready to bloom. Their mid-summer display of soft purple-blue spikes is worth waiting for, and the honey bees just can't seem to get enough of the plants' nectar. I can actually taste a hint of sage in the honey produced from the millions of flights the bees make to the Russian sage each summer.

"The girls" are enthusiastic about many other plants in the sage and Various forms of thyme are a special favorite. During a visit to a friend's garden recently, her thyme was in full bloom with its minute pink flowers. The little plants had so many bees crawling about, they looked like they were moving. Great stuff!

Several kinds of lavender, and just about everything in the mint family, will keep the honey bees happy, too. Just remember that mint is routinely an aggressive plant, and will take over if you let it. The staff at Tagawa's can offer suggestions on how to keep the mints in check.

Agastache and penstemons should be a part of every Colorado garden, and will definitely be a treat for "the girls" in your neighborhood.

The list of bee-friendly plants goes on and on: bee balm (no surprise there), daisies, foxglove, goldenrod, daffodils, tulips, cosmos, sunflowers, asters, gallardia, and poppies. The old-fashioned strains, with pollen and nectar the way Mother Nature made them, seem to be the biggest draw. I do occasionally see the bees visiting my big, flashy (but heavily hybridized) petunias, but the flowers don't seem to be on their "A" list.

Having a bee-friendly yard also includes minimal or no use of potent insecticides. Tagawa's takes pride in being the only certified sustainable garden center in the country. Our staff will gladly advise you on how to keep your landscape healthy.... and be good to "the girls" at the same time.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

A Passion for Growing Vegetables

We're seeing it at Tagawa Gardens, just as the National Gardening Association is seeing it nationwide: people are increasingly passionate about growing their own vegetables. It's more than a "craze." It's a phenomenon. At Tagawa's more than 800 people over just two weekends attended our free classes on edible gardening.

The recession is definitely a factor, but it's not the driving force. According to a recent study by the National Gardening Association, 54 percent of gardeners surveyed said saving money on food bills is their main reason for growing vegetables. But even more of those surveyed, 58 percent, said they simply want better-tasting food. A non-scientific survey among people attending a beginning vegetable gardening that I taught recently showed the same results.

In all, forty-three million households nationwide indicate they'll be growing some of their own vegetables, fruits, berries and herbs this year. Forty-three million!! We assume that number includes the First Family. The White House will have its first vegetable garden since the Victory Garden days of the Roosevelt administration.

And what's the "top crop?" Tomatoes, of course. Eighty-six percent of these veggie gardeners say tomatoes are their #1 priority. As you might expect, Tagawa's is well aware of the importance of a red, ripe tomato to our gardening customers. Our tomato varieties are increasing by the week. By early May, we'll have more than eighty different types of tomatoes for sale..... something to fit every taste and gardening preference.

Other crops as they rank in the national survey: cucumbers, sweet peppers, beans, carrots, summer squash, onions, hot peppers, lettuce and peas. All of these crops can thrive in a Colorado vegetable garden. Tagawa's carries plants or seeds.... and in many cases both... to help each of these crops get up and growing.

And don't forget the fruit! We're coming up on the perfect time of year to invest in your own edible landscape. How about an apple tree? Growing up, I took apples for granted. My little Swedish grandmother had her own orchard in Boulder. What I wouldn't give for some of those apples now! She also had a huge patch of raspberries and blackberries. I can still smell the jam cooking....

You can start planning and planting for your own memories of sweet lucious fruit with a walk through Tagawa's nursery department. Fruit trees and berry bushes are just waiting to take root in your back yard.... just as the whole notion of "growing your own" seems to be taking root in the hearts of the passionate gardeners we're seeing at Tagawa's.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Blueberries in Colorado?

People who want to grow blueberries in Colorado really want to grow blueberries in Colorado. Just ask Nancy, the supervisor of Tagawa's Tree and Shrub Department and a certified arborist.

Colorado gardens are generally not seen as a blueberry-friendly place. Our soil here is simply too alkaline to accommodate these acid-loving plants. But there may be a way around that.

Nancy tells me that she and her nursery staff are especially excited about some information out of Colorado State University. CSU's been experimenting with growing blueberries in large pots that have been sunken into the ground up to the pot's rim. The results are looking good!

The soil used in the pots is one of several specially-formulated mixes that keeps the blueberry plants' roots isolated from the native (less-than hospitable) soil. With the CSU guidelines in mind, Tagawa's nursery staff is gearing up to help Colorado gardeners follow their passion for growing blueberries.

Tagawa's will be carrying five different varieties of blueberries this spring. We'll have handouts with the soil "recipe" that seems to work best for the "blueberries in a pot." We'll also have other growing tips to help blueberry fans succeed.... tips like wrapping the plants in burlap to help protect them over the winter.

Bumper crops from these pot-grown plants probably aren't in the cards. But based on the initial results out of CSU, a decent harvest of home-grown Colorado blueberries may not be such a long shot.

And there's more! The nursery crew at Tagawa's will be offering other potted-fruit possibilities this year. Even early in the season, the plants look great growing back in our greenhouses.

Picture semi-dwarf fruit trees in large, fat pots.... pots big enough to accommodate a healthy root system. And around the pots: other small edibles and flowers. Jack of our nursery staff is growing a four-in-one apple tree (four varieties grafted onto one trunk,) and around the base, he's planted radishes, red cabbage, royal purple bush beans, ruby lettuce and rainbow Swiss chard. Another large pot is home to a semi-dwarf four-in-one pear tree with basil, poppies, petunias and chives.

Nancy says any small trees or shrubs grown in containers should be approached as an adventure, not a long-term sure thing. Growing shrubs and small trees in pots rather than directly in the ground will almost certainly mean a shorter-lived plant.

But the results can still be beautiful, with sweet fragrant blossoms early in the season, and bragging rights as spring turns into summer.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Wonder of Seeds

Gardening is an act of faith, especially as spring approaches and we start to think about the remarkable potential packed inside a seed. No other aspect of home gardening can start out on such a small scale and lead to such big results in just a matter of weeks.

Even in the middle of a mild-mannered winter such as this one along Colorado's front range, my inner-gardener can't walk by the seed racks at Tagawa's without stopping to admire the promise that all those seed packets hold. "Big Beef" tomatoes, so red and ripe you can almost feel the summer sun. "Scarlet Emperor" beans, the Scarlet Runner beans of my youth. They were the one bit of gardening my father did faithfully..... tucking the beautiful black and purple beans along the side of our breezeway for some welcome summer shade. And the countless flowers and vegetables offered by Botanical Interests out of Broomfield. The illustrations on the seed packets themselves are works of art, literally.

Vegetable gardening is making a huge comeback. Perhaps the increasing popularity of growing your own food comes from a need to be more in charge of what we eat, and where and how it's grown. Or maybe it's even more basic... wanting to carve out a place away from cell phones and traffic jams, where the pace is set by the seeds and the soil and the sun.

The folks here at Tagawa's are eager to help you indulge a back-to-the-garden movement of your own. March brings lots of free classes on how to start flowers and vegetables from seed.... and how to help nurture those plants as the growing season unfolds. We have the supplies and advice to put your gardening passion to work.

If that passion could use a little nurturing of its own, and it's been a while since you thought about the wonder of seeds, try this: Pick up a packet of seeds. Almost any kind of bean seeds will work especially well. Take a few of those seeds, roll them up in a wet paper towel, tuck them away in an unsealed plastic bag and leave them in a warm spot to incubate for a few days.

If they're kept moist, but not too wet, you can watch the seeds swell and split and send out fledgling roots, ready to go to work, just as they would in warm soil in spring. The difference is the seeds ususally perform this wonder way from our prying eyes.

With a renewed appreciation of the wonder of seeds, all that's left to do will be to plant the rest of those beans in the ground once the soil warms up. You might be surprised how much simple pleasure comes from nurturing plants and harvesting a crop that was no more than a few seeds as winter was drawing to an end.