CSU’s Dr. Klett Retiring After 40+ Years

By Lyn Dean, writer and editor, ALCC and CNGA

James Klett, Ph.D., became a faculty member at Colorado State University (CSU) in 1980, more than 40 years ago. By the simple fact of his longevity, Klett has touched the lives of countless students in horticulture. Additionally, he has been a tireless volunteer on multiple committees and boards of directors at both the state and national levels, and consistently encouraged collaborative participation of industry companies and organizations with the university.

It’s no wonder that CSU is hiring two people to replace Klett! One has already been hired and the second person—a herbaceous expert who will be doing the trial gardens—has not been identified and hired yet.

Catalyst for change

“So much has evolved, particularly in the past 25 years,” remarks Klett, referring both to his department—horticulture and landscape architecture—and CSU Extension, as well has the industry. Recent decades have seen accelerated change in Colorado horticulture as green industry companies and Colorado residents face the blunt reality that the state’s climate conditions—sun, wind, low precipitation and drought, soil conditions and fires—are tough on plants. Not to mention unpredictable effects of climate change.

Work together for common good

“When I first came here, there was division within the green industry and between industry and the university. I wanted all of us to do things together,” Klett reflects. When people work together, he has seen the results—the whole is bigger than the sum or the parts.

Looking back over his career, Klett is most proud of three programs he contributed to—trial gardens, Plant Select® and PlantTalk Colorado™ as models for collaboration.

CSU trial gardens are a testimony to Klett’s persistent, ongoing research to determine what plants will not only survive but thrive in the harsh Colorado climate. Each year’s top performing plants—annuals and perennials—can be found on the CSU website for all to view.

He reminds us that the trial gardens couldn’t run without support and contributions from the industry. The success of CSU trial gardens is noted by:

  • National recognition and being some of the top in the country.
  • Training students and future leaders.
  • Accomplishing the three goals of the university: teaching, research, outreach.

Plant Select® was founded 25 years ago and Klett “was there from Day 1.” Plant Select—a collaboration between CSU, Denver Botanic Gardens (DBG) and the horticulture industry—introduces plant choices to consumers and the green industry that have passed the test of hardiness and suitability within the Rocky Mountain region. And, they are beautiful. The organization represents another example of the kind of successful collaboration that Klett wanted to see.

“Though created for Colorado, Plant Select has been so successful that it’s received recognition outside the state for what it has accomplished,” say Klett. “Plant Select is a leader in the industry.”

PlantTalk Colorado™ is another example of collaboration and is sponsored by CSU Extension, Denver Botanic gardens, and Green Industries of Colorado (GreenCO). PlantTalk provides web-based garden information from experts—at no charge to the gardening public—on about 500 topics, with at least 300 in Spanish. Once again, Klett was there at the beginning, and he remembers when the information was provided via a 24-hour toll-free telephone number. “Written scripts were used and we all worked together to create them,” he recalls. Callers selected from a menu of topics and heard the applicable scripted, recorded information.

Over the nearly 25 years, PlantTalk has moved online with its own website and many of the topics now have YouTube videos featuring an expert.

Increasing professionalism

“I’ve seen the industry organizations become more professional,” Klett says. “The green industry is now recognized as a profession.”

People in the industry work together in Colorado and ProGreen EXPO is a good example of the industry coming together. Instead of the several individual trade shows of the past, there is now one big one where many parts of the green industry come together.

Klett clearly played a role in bringing groups together. How? He believes there should be a CSU representative on every association board to maintain the industry-university connection. He has served as a board member on several state associations including Colorado Nursery and Greenhouse Association (CNGA), Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC), Garden Centers of Colorado (GCC) and International Society of Arboriculture-Rocky Mountain Chapter (ISA-RMC). He also served as president at the regional level for ISA, in addition to numerous other national associations such as the American Society for Horticultural Science.

In general, Klett has observed within the Colorado green industry that people work together and recognize the common challenges. He thinks that’s somewhat unique. “I see people come together to talk about water, conservation, planting guides, tree recommendations, etc.”


“The most rewarding part of my career has been the students,” Klett reveals. “I love to see them become successful in many areas of the green industry, to see them doing well, educating others in horticulture and enjoying their profession. I like to see how they’ve moved in the world.” “I’m not going away anytime soon,” Klett reminds us, even as a gathering in August celebrated his retirement. “There are still several things I’m working on.” This includes revising Front Range Tree recommendations and some other resources, and seeing his graduate students through their work.