Sunday, March 21, 2010

When To Prune

Well, the onions and celery and leeks are started in the house now. They're up and doing just fine. So, on a warm day last week I walked out onto the crusty snow in the backyard to see what might be going on with the trees and shrubs. As I suspected, not much. Too early for winter damage to show up, but it is time to sharpen the pruning shears for the annual spring pruning.

Folks always ask us when the right time is to prune, and we always tell them "When the knife is sharp." Liberty Hyde Bailey, the Father of American Horticulture, gave folks the same answer a century ago, but I know he didn't get it from us. We are far more sophisticated today...we have to have a precise time and a precise method for every gardening chore.

But Nature doesn't dictate that with pruning. In fact, it makes little difference to the tree whether you prune it or not. After all, no one prunes them in the wild. We've devised times for pruning that suit OUR needs, not those of the plants. Prune spring flowering shrubs right after they bloom and prune just about all trees in early spring. That works just fine, so long as we sharpen the knives this time of year so that we... prune when the knife is sharp.
—Dr. Bob Gough

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

We've Moved Our Blog

Thanks to all of you who have subscribed to our blog! We've just moved over to, so go ahead and check it out. To subscribe to the new feed, click here. We'll be posting content at the new location more often than in the past, so be sure to sign up! You can also view the latest postings on our website at
—Ben Johns

Thursday, March 4, 2010

March 5, 2010

         My husband and I don’t care for green tomato pie, green tomato chutney, or green tomato salsa. We love homegrown tomatoes, so we store our last fall harvest in a box in the garage, where it’s cool enough that the green tomatoes slowly ripen. Each week, I pick out the yellow-to-orange colored fruit and place them in a dark blue hand-thrown ceramic bowl sitting on the kitchen counter, to finish ripening. While these tomatoes aren’t as flavorful as our sun-ripened ones, we think they taste better than the winter tomatoes we find in the stores around town.
         A few weeks ago, the last of our tomatoes sat on the counter. Some were a bit wrinkled, all not much larger than cherry tomatoes. My friend, Becky, turning up her nose when she saw them in the bowl, asked why I hadn’t thrown them out. I was defensive. “Cooked in olive oil, these taste great in a casserole or eggs.” I’m not sure she believed me.
         Several days later, preparing stuffed acorn squash for supper, I cut open an inch and a half long, firm, unwrinkled, red ‘Roma,’ and saw green. Thinking Becky may have been right—I looked closer, and saw tiny stems with green leaves sprouting from the seeds.
         Years ago, cutting open a grapefruit I’d stored in my fridge—one seed had sprouted. I’d thought it odd then, but now, with a tomato full of sprouted seeds, I wanted answers. I sent Cheryl, our technical editor for horticulture, an email to see if she’d have an interesting explanation.
         Cheryl responded, “Yep. I’ve seen this too, with seeds germinating inside the fruit. Did you know that corn, dried on the stalk, will germinate right on the plant? I think this would be a good one for Dr. Bob.” She forwarded my e-mail to her husband.
         Dr. Bob replied, The technical term for this sort of thing is ‘vivipary.’ The juice of some fruit, such as tomato, apple, and some citrus, contains germination inhibitors that prevent the seeds from germinating in the fruit. Over time, in storage, those inhibitors become ineffective, allowing germination to occur. Additionally, seeds of many fruit—mostly fruit of woody plants—require a period of cold before they can germinate. So, if you store fruit in the refrigerator for any length of time, the cold requirement is satisfied AND the germination inhibitors break down, allowing the seeds to germinate in the fruit. Fruit in this condition is not harmful, but because it is old, it may not taste very good.”
         There you have it—vivipary….
         I chopped up the rest of my tomatoes that evening—none of the others had sprouted and they tasted great with the stuffed acorn squash. Later, I planted the sprouts, leaving them on the tomato slice, in a small pot, barely covering them with soil. Two seeds have grown; one is an inch tall. We’ll see if they’ll bear fruit this summer.
—Rilla Esbjornson

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

February 24, 2010

Get Your Grow Lights Glowing
         Bob and I seeded onions, leeks, and celery February 7. It’s not a good idea to start transplants too early in our enthusiasm to be shed of winter’s dreariness, but for these plants, it’s ok as they require much longer to get to the size we need for setting to the garden. We use the same shelves for starting plants that we store our winter squash, and I had to move our last three Lakota squash to make room. It’s always exciting to clean last year’s soil off the shelves and fire up the grow lights. We have them set to turn on automatically for a 16-hour photoperiod right now. The onions and leeks are 2 to 4 inches tall, and the celery is finally showing up. We also planted catnip, and while we have a couple of plants that are obviously catnip, there are a number of other, strange-looking plants—one of which looks suspiciously like red-rooted pigweed. I guess that’s what we get for planting the catnip seeds in the bottom of the tub of catnip we bought! We’ll wait to sow more seeds for transplants until 6 to 8 weeks prior to the day we plan to set them to the garden. Some vegetables only need 4 weeks to make a good transplant!
—Cheryl Moore-Gough

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

February 17, 2010

Trade Associations Professionalize the Hort Industry  
     A year ago we joined three state trade associations: the Colorado Nursery & Greenhouse Association, Idaho Nursery & Landscape Association, and Montana Nursery & Landscape Association. We knew connecting with the good folks who purvey plants and knowledge to our readers was a good idea, but it has been better than that: friendship and camaraderie in a shared industry.
         Last January we exhibited at the MNLA in Missoula, on the university campus. It was nasty cold and windy outside, but inside the University Center meeting rooms, exhibit hall, and amphitheater, we listened to some great speakers, signed up some new retail outlets, sold a few subscriptions, and Nurseries new friends. Noted horticulturist Dan Heims, of Terra Nova gardens in Canby, Oregon, gave an intriguing slide presentation drawn from his world travels, titled “How Dry I Am,” in which he predicted nations warring over water within five to 10 years. Some of his tips: plants with similar needs should be planted together; pruning reduces transpiration; wax sprays help to keep moisture in.
         Another keynote speaker was Robert Doliboi, executive vice president of the American Nursery & Landscape Association, who offered a packed audience a unique perspective on the “green industry” and what terrific opportunities it has to prosper despite, and perhaps because of, the current challenges of economic recession and global warming controversy. He talked a lot about sustainability, defining it as: “The ability to continue a defined behavior indefinitely.”
         Many attendees were familiar with Zone 4, even subscribers, and those who hadn’t seen an issue were impressed.
         We came away so excited that on returning home that we immediately bought a booth at the much larger CNGA’s annual ProGreen expo, held in the Denver Convention Center the second week of February. Unfortunately, we were pretty much tied to the booth and couldn’t sit it on any of the seminars and workshops covering a wide range of topics, from new plant varieties to green roofs, integrated pest management, and advice on how to run a business.
         We did get to spend some time with faculty and staff from Colorado State University, and are pleased to have Dr. Steven Newman onboard as a contributor. Steve is in the Horticulture and Landscape Architecture Department, and a specialist in protective structures.
         CSU also is home to the wonderful Plant Select program, which tests plants for their suitability to the Rocky Mountain region, promotes and educates the public. On page 55 of our Spring issue (just got the first copy in my hands and it looks awesome!) is a description of Plant Select’s recommended plants for 2010.
         If there is one overriding impression we have of these trade associations it is this: by and large, growers and nurserymen and women are knowledgeable, professional, and a pretty friendly lot. Next year’s expos will brighten our winter.
—Dan Spurr

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

December 31, 2009

State Of Zone 4
         The magazine made it through year 1! We met most of our performance projections, which really were guesses made a year ago. We finished 2009 with nearly 1400 subscribers in 38 states (even though we only market to five), and are on about 350 newsstands where our sell-through rate is quite a bit higher than the national average. The nearly 50 nurseries and garden centers that sell Zone 4 on counter racks have done even better.
         In appreciation of our charter subscribers and advertisers, we just mailed each one a free 2010 Zone 4 Calendar with some cool photos from around the Rocky Mountains. Included is a Reader Survey that we hope many of you will return; demographic data is important for two reasons: to help us learn more about what sorts of articles you like; and to better explain the magazine to advertisers. One of our advisors, an industry veteran, keeps reminding us that a magazine is like a three-legged stool: editorial, advertisements, and readers—without any one of them the stool falls over.
         Andra and I are looking forward to year 2 with great anticipation. Here are some of the additions you’ll see in 2010.

• A crossword puzzle in which the answers are words taken from articles in the same issue.

• Our first travel story will appear in the Spring issue with a visit to Grand Junction, home of the Western Colorado Botanical Gardens and dozens of vineyards and orchards.

• Articles for the advanced gardener, beginning with Dr. Bob Gough’s tips on how to increase flower bud induction in fruit trees, with a sidebar on how to abort unwanted fruit.

• If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already seen our revamped Web site, thanks to the hard work of Ben Johns. In 2010 we hope to begin adding short video interviews with great gardeners.

• Also on the new Web site online store are a few new products for sale: embroidered Zone 4 aprons, back issues, the superbly simple Sliver Gripper tweezers, and the aforementioned Zone 4 2010 Calendar. Check back for a unique line of handmade garden tools.

Many thanks to all who have helped us in 2009! Especially Kira, April, Lois, Rilla, Cheryl, Dr. Bob, Ben, Steve, Linnie, Adria, Anna, Laura, and Jane. You’re great!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

October 25, 2009

Crazy Mountain Weather

Where we live, 5 miles north of Bozeman, it can snow just about any month of the year, though it’s rare in July and August. This year, we almost got through September without significant snowfall. But on the last day of the month it came, wet and heavy. Leaves were still on the trees, each one a glove-like catchment. Boughs bent, boughs broke. It melted, of course, and then temperatures dropped into the teens. The suddenly freed leaves froze. It was as if we jumped from summer to winter, skipping autumn altogether. Indeed, the aspens never had a chance to turn the mountainsides yellow. The aspen leaves in our yard are a dark purple, some almost black. The color of death.

All the doom and gloom talk about the weather changed a week later, when temperatures rose to a more normal daytime range in the 50s. The sun returned, too. Some nights temps are just above freezing, other nights just below. But I miss the colors from our aspen, maples, and contoneasters.

I pulled my last tomato plants just before the big snowstorm and am letting them ripen in a cardboard box in the garage. I taste them every few days, and after a few weeks some have gone soft, others are coming along just fine. None tastes quite as good as those that ripened on the vine in late August and early September.

Did I mention the October wind that blew down off the mountains, pegging the dial at 50-60 mph for nearly a full day and night? In our yard it took one mature aspen and a lot of branches. At least it carried away a lot of those purple-black leaves that were starting to bum me out.

C’est la vie in the Rockies.