Colorado Newcomers and Gardening

I have lived in Colorado for 16 years but I still remember the first year I tried to garden here.  Plants I thought would grow here shriveled up and died, frost killed my first bunch of vegetable transplants and the wind blew away my tall tulips.  Welcome to Colorado my neighbors told me.  Here you have to rethink a lot about the gardening you have done where you lived before.

Unlike a lot of the coastal areas, we do not get a lot of rain.  We are considered a semi-arid state.  We also get a lot of wind here called Chinook winds.  You probably have already experienced them early in the morning when your lawn furniture tried to move to New Mexico.  Freak snowstorms is another one of our dilemmas we have to deal with.  It may be sunny when you went to work, but when you got ready to go home there is a blizzard outside.  The old saying “If you don’t like the weather now wait ten minutes” describes Colorado.  Additionally, one of the things I do like about living here, low humidity, also causes probables with our plants.    Also, one of the big challenges to gardeners here, novice or master, is our soil.  Our soil is mostly made up of clay and sand.  Even in some areas we decomposed granite.  Now doesn’t that sound lovely to try and plant your favorite variety of tulips in.  Now your probably wondering why should I even try to garden here? 

Even with all the negatives things I just said about gardening here, there are a lot of reasons to garden here.  The one I like the most is the sunshine.  Being originally from the Northeast, I love all this sunshine here especially during  the winter.  Our high elevations here provides some the highest intensity of light I have ever experience.  The plus of that is we grow some of the prettiest flowers around.

The first area I think as a new gardener to Colorado you need to address is what kind of soil do you have in your yard?  Is it sand or clay?  Or is it a combination like I have?  You talk to other gardeners that have lived here for awhile and your going to hear, you need to amend or soil.  Amend my soil?  What does that mean and how do I do it?  Soil amending is any material added to your soil that will improve the physical properties, such as aeration, water retention and struture.  This can be done by adding compost, aged manure or peat moss.  Check out http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/Garden/07235.html for more detailed information on soil amendments. 

Sure we don’t get a lot of rain here but we just have to rethink how to grow and what to grow.  Granted you may not be able to grow some of  your favorite flowers or shrubs here.  But there are so many other plants you can grow here and they will survive.  One area to look at is our native plants.  Using native plants cuts down on your watering and constant care.  Look at incorporating these trees the Colorado Spruce, Ponderosa Pine, Big-tooth Maple and Pinion Pine into your landscape.  Also, Apache plume, Chockcherry, Rabbitbrush and Western Sand Cherry do great here.  Some flowers that do well are Butterfly Weed, Early Sunrise Coreopis, Yellow Ice Plant, Purple Coneflower and numerous more.

To combat soil erosion, low moisture and humidity we have here, the use of organic or inorganic mulch is essential.  Organic mulch can be hay,wood chips, grass clippings while inorganic mulches are rock mulch or gravel.  Each one has their advantages and disadvantages.  I prefer to use organic mulches because not only do they prevent soil erosion and help with water retention, they will break down over time and improve the soil.  Once again check out http://www.ext.colostate.edu/Pubs/garden/07214.html for more indepth information on the use of mulches.

Another word you will hear a lot here in Colorado is Xeriscaping.  Basically what that means is dry garden landscaping.  Xeriscaping takes into consideration the use of the proper plants, irrigation, and soil preparation so you can have a beautiful garden while conserving water.  Xeriscaping does not mean you can only grow cactus or you have to cut out your grass and put down nothing but rocks.  Establishing a plan on how you want your garden to look is vital.  Proper planning and incorporating efficient irrigation can save you 30 to 80 percent on water savings.

Keeping an eye on the loca weather forcasts is really important, especially in the early Spring.  Our last frost date is May 15th.  I know that may come as a shock to you but trust me I have lost plants to frost putting them out too early.  One way I do get a jump on the gardening season is by the use Wall-O-Waters, Row Covers and Cloches.  It one does a good job of protecting your tender vegetation if we get a sudden cold spell.

So as you can see you can grow beautiful shrubs, flowers trees and vegetables here, you just need to learn the proper techniques for this area.  Visit local gardens, your friends gardens and demonstrations gardens and see what is growing there.  This will provide you with a wealth of information on what will grow here.  One of my favorite gardens to visit is the Colorado Springs Utilites Xeriscape Garden on Mesa Road.  Check out their website at http://www.csu.org/wa/xeri/xeriscape.jsp.

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