Posted by: Amy Lentz, Weld County Extension
Population growth in Colorado is on the rise and with an increase in people moving into the state, so come new gardeners to the area. As a newbie to gardening in Colorado, I have quickly learned that it is not at all like the gardening I was used to living in Kentucky. Those days of plentiful precipitation, deep rich soils, and spring starting in late March are over. On the bright side, also gone are the long and drab gray winters without sunshine and the presence of more plant diseases than were ever thought imaginable because of Kentucky’s high humidity. My two worlds of gardening could not be further apart! So, from one new Colorado gardener to another, here are a few things that one should understand to be successful whether you are new to the state or a native Coloradoan that is new to gardening.
|Map courtesy of Colorado Department of Local Affairs.|
First, water is a precious commodity here. With precipitation from rain and snowfall of around 15 inches annually, it is important to make the most of your water source. Use irrigation methods such as drip irrigation in order to get the water to where you need it – at the base of the plant. Traditional overhead sprinkler systems spray water into the air and here, in dry Colorado, much of that water will evaporate before it reaches the ground. What else can you do? Mulch, mulch, mulch. This will help conserve that precious water you just applied. Also, think about installing a rain barrel to further conserve by capturing the water from your rooftop. For more information about installing a rain barrel, click here.
|Photo courtesy of CSU's Agricultural Water Conservation Clearinghouse.|
And then there is the soil...which is very different than other areas of the country. The soil along the Front Range of Colorado where I live is usually either sandy or clayey and typically in need of some level of amending for it to be fertile for most crops. As a new Colorado gardener, it’s a good idea to have your soil tested by CSU or another soil testing lab to find out your soil's nutrient levels and what you need to do to make it more productive.
Finally, if you are gardening in Colorado, your patience is sure to be tested because the growing season is shorter than you might think. It takes a lot of self-restraint to not run out into your garden at the first sign of warm weather and want to plant something…anything. Now would be a good time to plant cool season crops, trees, shrubs, or perennials, but you must wait to plant those tender crops and flowers. The average last Spring frost date for Colorado's Front Range is around the 15th of May, so unless you are using gardening practices to extend your season like high tunnels, it's better to wait if you want to stay on the safe side.
|My gardening days in Kentucky - tomatoes were in the ground by early May. |
Better wait until mid to late May in Colorado!
So if you’re new to Colorado or you are a long-time resident who is just getting started, keep trying and don’t give up. Practice may not make perfect here (especially in the beginning) but it sure is rewarding when you do have success. And don’t be afraid to ask questions of those who have gone down that road before, as I’m sure they could enlighten you with some of their experiences!