MONTROSE – It’s too early to put out those tomatoes, but April is the month to get ready for planting spring beds and summer vegetable and flower gardens. Some things can even be planted right now.
But first, those old beds need to be cleaned out, says Trina Donahue of Camelot Gardens in Montrose.
“You need to make sure the old foliage and twigs and leaves and old plants are cleaned up,” she said. “And if you had any problems with bugs or diseases last year, now is the time to address that and take precautions.”
When the beds are cleaned up, consider adding compost and organic matter to supplement the soil for this year’s plants.
Camelot Gardens has plenty of flowers, vegetable plants and seeds for sale right now, and this Saturday and Sunday, April 16-17, they are holding all-day open houses, with hot dogs and lemonade served between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
It’s not too early to get seeds in the ground, as long as they’re cold-tolerant veggies, Donahue said, such as lettuce, beans, peas, potatoes, spinach, onions, radishes, cauliflower and broccoli.
“Most of it will take a light freeze,” she said, or you can use a cold frame, keeping the seeds and plants under a plastic or Plexiglas covering until the weather warms a bit more.
At Park Nursery and Garden Center in Ridgway, Barbi White recommends using a cold frame for the time being, just in case it ends up being a cold spring, like last year.
“But this is the perfect time to plant trees, before they bloom around May 1,” White said. “It won’t stress them, and then when they put their roots out, they’re already situated.”
Consistent watering, especially in the first few weeks of planting, is essential for maintaining a healthy tree, and watering regularly helps cut down on pests, she said.
If you’re battling weeds in your garden, the best way to get rid of them is to pull them out now, by their roots, White said.
“If you get weeds out and then put some Soil Pep on it, you won’t get weeds,” she said. Soil Pep and Black Forest Compost are both recommended as a top dressing and for mixing into the soil when planting seeds, flowers, shrubs or trees. Both are a mulch made of composted bark products, so regular fertilizing is still needed.
Less is better when using fertilizers, White said.
“You don’t want to over fertilize, because it weakens the plants,” she said.
If you’re planning to grow vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkins or watermelons from seeds, it’s almost past time to plant them indoors, White said, but not too late.
“You should start plants indoors 65 days ahead to get to the point where they begin to produce,” she said. “That still leaves enough summer [for the fruits] to get really big, but you need to get going pretty soon.”
Some people put up tomato plants early using a “wall of water” system that utilizes heat captured in water contained in plastic around the base of the plant to keep them from being damaged when temperatures dip.
“It’s still a little early, it’s supposed to protect down to about 22 degrees,” she said.
Exactly when to plant in the ground depends on where you live, said Ginny Price, Master Gardner for the Tri River area of the Colorado State University Extension Service.
Price can be contacted with gardening questions at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970/249-3935. But for the answer to just about any gardening question, Price said home gardeners can log onto www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/pubs.html#garden for both basic and detailed information.
Topics include Gardening for Newcomers, Mountain Garden Basics, Homeowner Pesticide Guides, Landscaping for Energy Conservation, and many more.
Under Gardening for Newcomers, CSU talks about troubles newcomers to our area can experience when they discover that plants they grew successfully elsewhere, even in northern states, don’t grow easily in our Colorado due to the combination of low humidity, drying winds and physical properties of the soil, such as low pH and salt accumulation.
“Organic matter, if added in large amounts or all at once, can provide for a more porous soil,” the website states. “However, this practice can lead to the accumulation of natural, soluble salts and tend to accumulate in the amended soil layer.”
One solution is to choose plants that are more tolerant to saline soil conditions, such as planting juniper trees instead of pines.
Another problem for Colorado growers is the high iron content in red soils, and trees such as pin oak, silver maple or Washington hawthorn don’t grow well here.
“The best alternative is to select plants tolerant of Colorado’s alkaline soil,” the site states. “Instead of pin oak, choose bur oak, or Norway maple instead of silver maple.”
And, as any gardener in this area knows, untimely spring snows and late frosts can interrupt growing seasons or bring them to a halt if tender plants are exposed for too long. To avoid early cold injury to gardens, do not place hedges, fences or other landscape features where they can restrict the free flow of air, CSU recommends.
Sudden temperature changes can also have an effect, according to CSU. An extreme example was in 1949 when temperatures near Fort Collins went from 50 degrees to minus 40 degrees in a 24-hour span, virtually wiping out the sour cherry industry.
To help reduce plant injuries from sudden temperature changes in the fall, CSU recommends gradually reducing water in late summer and avoiding late season applications of nitrogen-rich fertilizers.
The good news, according to CSU, is that Colorado’s many days of sunshine produce some of the best flowers in the nation, due to high light intensity that produces “strong-stemmed plants and flowers with extra brilliance.”
Cool, crisp nights and warm days also produce healthier lawns, and low humidity helps prevent many plant diseases that are common in humid areas.
“Perhaps the brightest side lies in the challenging problems in growing plants,” CSU states on its website. “Gardeners who are patient, know how to select plants that do well, and manipulate the soil and microclimate, will be amply rewarded.”