• 05/21/2024

    Colorado High Altitude Gardening Tips

    August 4, 2023
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    Public Domain. Gardening Tips for Colorado

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    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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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

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    Lately we've had good success with attracting pollinators with second year carrots in Colorado. For those whom do not know, some plants like onions and carrots have a two year life cycle. The first year the vegetable part grows, most uproot the plant at this point to consume as food. But if you leave a few carrots or onions in the ground over the winter they then use the vegetable part to grow again, except this second cycle the vegetable is no longer edible, instead used to generate flowers and seeds.

    One year we had an unexpectedly successful carrot growing event where a few big packets of seeds brought forth buckets of carrots by the end of the year. So much that even though we tried to harvest all of them, a few meter square of unpicked carrots was left over the winter. Then next year they all grew again, created seed heads which grew three feet high and attracted an untold number of pollinators. Then we harvested seeds but many fell during the process and there were so many we were unable to harvest them all. We ended up using old bottles to store the seeds. Literally buckets full of carrot seeds, all for free.

    Now a few years later we have carrots growing where we never planted them in the first place. They're like weeds and will not stop, lol. Onions are similar but have fewer seeds in these contained little seed pods, while carrots seeds are out there easy to shake off. And now we just let the cycle continue and only harvest on the outskirts because the pollinator attractant factor is so great. Learning to harvest seeds, an unexpected gardening benefit. We have tomatoes growing in our compost pile these days, and have learned to harvest cucumber seeds too.

    Other helpful gardening tips; Learn what the pre metamorphism state of a ladybug is. They look nothing like lady bugs but rather little scary bugs something between a slug and a beetle or like a mini salamander. Leave them alone, they turn into ladybugs, and ladybugs eat mites and the invasive insects you do not want in your garden. Ladybugs plant eggs on leafs so when your leafs fall never throw them out, rather set them in a pile and the ladybugs come back next spring, wait until summer to throw the leaves out or fully compost them. Buy praying mantis pods, learn what the pods look like, care for them if you find them on your trees, another self sustaining pest control. Learn what a mayfly looks like, they are also helpful for gardens.

    Organic gardening 101, care for a small ecosystem and it will be more self sustainable. No pesticides will be necessary, eventually with composting, you do not need fertilizers either, although they help. Lately we just crush egg shells and sprinkle them everywhere, helps with growth. Have not used a single pesticide, oil or spray in a decade. At this point even if we stopped tending the garden, edible foods would still grow for some time.

    The most remarkable thing happened this spring. We let dandelions grow freely because they are among the earliest sources of bee pollen. Saving the bees and all. Then they grew and seeded and proliferated wildly. They occupy the entire garden right now. In the mornings little red headed finches eat the seed part and other unwanted bugs. Then by day the flowers bloom and we have tons of bees. Then afternoon bigger birds come as well. The dandelion is pulling minerals upward with their deep roots and providing good organic matter which will degrade into available plant nutrients when we till in a few weeks or so. Absolutely remarkable, the procession of insects and birds whom thrive on dandelions. Next year we are going to harvest dandelion roots and make tinctures. Dandelion extract is among the best vitamin mineral supplements we ever tried. Marketed for natural kidney stone dissolving and liver health, it's also a powerful anti oxidant and inflammatory reducing agent. Incredible. Throw the round up away, dandelions add color to lawns and support wildlife.

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