Many nationally syndicated garden articles currently offer advice on end of season cleanup activities. But we who live in Colorado are just beginning to experience some fruit from our gardening efforts!! Colorado gardeners begin the season later than those in other states because of our altitude. Gardening above 6000 feet is challenging and oftentimes frustrating. Many gardeners do not persevere.
For those who do persevere, they will say there is nothing like picking your own tomato, cucumber or raspberry to spur you on to continue in this difficult climate. They will extoll the beauty of a multi-colored flower bed and will say it is worth the effort even with all the difficulties of our area. If you have experienced cold temperatures, hail and wind this year, as most of us have, please take heart and don’t give up. There are several strategies for gardening in our area that can help alleviate some of our challenges.
Here are a few tips for new and not-so-new gardeners in Colorado:
Try one new plant or technique at a time. In our enthusiasm, It’s easy to buy every delightful plant or seed packet we see. However, it’s best to begin slowly and incrementally. Learn the plant’s environmental needs first. Can it even grow in Colorado? If you moved here from California and want to have a lemon tree, you might be disappointed. Most plants or seed packets have a label that contains vital information for successful planting, including soil, sun, and water requirements. Always read these labels to plant in the right environment. My vegetable garden needed some help in pollination to increase production. The one new technique I applied this year was to add pollinator attracting plants to my garden area. I have seen more butterflies and bees as the season has progressed. Slowly growing our garden is the best way to achieve success and not waste time and money.
In our harsher environment, hard scape is as important as the seeds and plants. Should you have raised garden beds? What kind of watering would be best? Do you need to stake your plants? Are you in a windy location? Do you need hail cloth or shade cloth? Making these decisions prior to planting is very important.
Evaluate your successes and failures for this year’s season. Writing down what worked and didn’t in a journal will be very helpful. (If you are just beginning, plan your garden area on paper first to avoid costly mistakes.) This year was exceptionally rainy and cool, which is out of our control. Acknowledging this fact can be comforting as we simply press on to next year. Our evaluation will help us determine what changes to make next year to compensate for these weather factors as much as possible. Hail cloth is definitely on my must do list for next year. Consider evaluation as a vital part of gardening.
Don’t go it alone. There are several gardening groups in Colorado who help gardeners learn about growing in our climate. Everyone in these groups has experienced success and failure, and they are extremely knowledgeable. Most of these groups provide speakers on various aspects of gardening, garden tours for ideas, and camaraderie to foster perseverance in this hobby. The Horticultural Arts Society (www.HAS.org) offers lectures on a wide variety of garden topics, a plant sale with plants specifically suited to Colorado, and an opportunity to learn by doing in their volunteer-run demonstration gardens. The CO Native Plant Society (www.conps.org) also offers education, field experiences, and expert teaching about our native plants. Interested in a water feature in your garden and perhaps some koi fish? Check out the Pikes Peak Water Garden Society (www.ppwgs.org). Learn first before making costly mistakes. And for any ongoing questions, contact the Colorado State University Extension office (elpaso.extension.colostate.edu or extension.colo state.edu). Their advice line is staffed by experienced gardeners who can help assess disease issues and offer advice on many garden questions. Their website provides fact sheets on a wide variety of plants and plant issues.
Colorado gardeners can succeed with the right tools and some knowledge. So keep on gardening. It’s worth it.
Gardening article by Cindy Schaefer, Colorado Free Press Contributor