I started gardening in Colorado the summer of 2008 when we bought our first house. It came with raised beds that had sprinklers and I quickly over-planted and over-watered. Each year has been a bit better than the last mainly thanks to the many classes offered at Tagawa Gardens, my favorite garden center, and making sure to utilize plants and seeds that grow well in our high altitude climate.
Probably the biggest thing I have learned over the years is that you cannot just do it all on Mother’s Day (as many people recommend) and think everything will work out. Mother’s Day is perfect for about 1/3 of what you will plant but too early for another 1/3 and too late for another 1/3. It is best to spread everything out from March to June and plant when it is ideal for that individual vegetable.
Here is my Colorado gardening timeline, tips, and some of my favorite resources learned from over 10 years of amateur gardening experience.
- Clean up your beds
- Add a good mix of garden soil, compost, and composted manure (do not use fresh manure because it will burn your plants)
- Cover the beds with plastic sheeting so the soil will start to get warm
- Read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver to get inspired and excited about gardening season.
March 17: St. Patrick’s Day
- Uncover cool crop bed
- Sow peas, snap peas, or snow peas directly in your garden (old American tradition that brings good luck to your garden)
- Also sow kale, radish, and spinach seeds directly in your garden.
- Start seeds for warmer weather crops (tomatoes, cucumber, zucchini, green beans, herbs, broccoli, cabbage, peppers, etc) inside
- I like to make mini greenhouses with egg crates, seed starting mix, labeled popsicle sticks and gallon sized plastic bags. You can buy lights to help things get started but I have had success simply placing my mini greenhouses in windowsills on south-facing windows.
April 1: April Fool’s Day
- Plant seedlings of cool crops in garden (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts etc)
- Plant bare roots of asparagus
- Sow beet, carrot, celery, and lettuce seeds directly in your garden
Some green beans and other vegetables waiting to be planted outside.
- Uncover warm crop bed
- Plant green bean and herb seedlings
- Sow additional green bean and pea seeds
- Plant additional cool crop seedlings and sow second round of seeds
- Take pictures with family by garden and celebrate what feels like the real start to gardening season!
- Plant tomato, cucumber, zucchini, other squash, melon, eggplant and pepper seedlings or plants purchased from garden center
- Do not feel like you are cheating if you purchase plants!
Perennial plants I highly recommend:
- Asparagus (ask for bare root variety recommendation at local garden center)
- Blackberries: Triple Crown
- This is a variety recommended by the CSU Master Gardener Program. It does not produce suckers and does not have thorns. The berries are huge and sweet. I have two of these plants now and plan on adding more due to how well they are producing and how much fun it is to see my kids enjoy eating straight from the vines.
- Grafted fruit trees:
- Fruit salad or multi-variety apple trees are a great option for small gardens. These trees are self-pollinating so you do not need multiple trees to achieve pollination, which is necessary for fruit to grow. It is worth going to a quality garden center and spending a bit more on your tree to make sure you get every variety that is advertised and varieties that will grow well in your climate.
- Your garden center will likely advise you to pick 100% of the flowers off the first year, 75% the second year, 50% the third year and 25% the fourth year. While that is hard to do when you really want to see fruit growing on your tree, it will help the tree to put down good roots and grow strong branches that will not break under the weight of the heavy fruit.
- Keep trying! Gardening in Colorado is a little hard. Sometimes it feels like a bit of an experiment each year. Our summers can be very different year-to-year so if something doesn’t work well one year, ask your local garden center for advice and try again. If something works really well, write down what you did (when and how you planted, etc) so you can do it the same next year.
- Consult the CSU Extension Yard & Garden resources regularly
- They have lots of advice, how-tos, etc. I always consult this before making a perennial purchase in order to make sure it is a variety that will do well in Colorado.
- Hold your seedlings and plants carefully by the leaves, not the stem
- I probably crushed the stem of a 100 fragile plants before I learned this one and then the plants would promptly die after I planted them outside.
- Let the ground around your plants dry between waterings
- Watering too much can cause lots of problems including bug infestations that are hard to control.
- Plant a flower or butterfly garden near your vegetable garden
- This will encourage bees to visit your garden and pollinate your vegetables.
I will make sure to add things as I learn them but this is what I have for now.