Prepping for spring gardening important to fall harvest
Photo courtesy of Alison O’Connor
CSU horticulture agent in Larimer County
Spring is the season that many people look forward to.
The weather is getting warmer, grass is starting to green and trees are blooming.
Spring is also the time that gardeners start prepping and planting their gardens.
“While many gardeners are happy to have a break during the winter months, spring brings renewed enthusiasm for spending time in the yard. It’s a good time to harness this energy and attend to basic maintenance in the garden to ensure another season of beauty,” said Khursheed Mama, a Colorado State University Master Gardener in Larimer County.
If you are creating new gardens, now is the time to start prepping those areas.
Sally Weiser, another CSU Master Gardener in Larimer County, says it’s best to start with a plan.
“Choose the location of your new bed, keeping in mind the sun requirements of the plants you are putting in the bed. Vegetables require at least six to eight hours of sunshine and perennials and annuals can be sun or shade loving. It would be helpful to research plants that are suitable for the location that you have chosen in your planning process,” she said.
She continued, “Draw out your plan on paper and pencil in where you want your plants to be located. Be sure that the space is the right size for your needs. If you are a beginning gardener, start small and add space in stages as your gardening skills improve. Don’t set yourself up for failure by making multiple beds or beds that are too large to maintain with your time and energy. Mark your utility, sprinkler, and drip system lines when choosing the bed site and plant location sites to avoid damage.”
The next step is to prepare the area, which may include cutting out grass and adding compost.
“Once grass and debris is removed from the soil spread 4-5 inches of compost over the soil. Compost must be thoroughly worked into the soil 8-10 inches. A power tiller does the best job, but small beds can be turned by hand. Do not over till. Compost can be added to beds in following years to replenish nutrients as a 1-2 inch top dressing or it can be worked into the soil,” Weiser explained.
The last step is to plant the plants. “Most garden plants will be purchased in nursery containers. Look for healthy foliage and strong roots. Avoid leggy and root-bound plants whose roots are growing out of the top or bottom of the container. It is helpful to set out the containers in the locations where you want them planted, to see the impact of your plants. It is easier to change plant locations, before you plant,” she stated.
She continued, “Tap the sides and bottom of the container to loosen the soil and slide the plant gently out of the container. Never pull the plant out by the stem or leaves. Make the planting hole twice as wide as the root ball and slightly shallower than the root ball. Back fill with site soil and gently water.”
If plants are started as seeds, they should be fresh with this year’s date.
“Seeds are easily planted into the ground following the seed packet’s instructions. Cover the seeds with the recommended amount of soil and gently water. All plants should be planted keeping the mature size of the plant in mind. Over-crowding can cause plants not to thrive,” she said.
Seeds that were started indoors prior to planting season will need to be transplanted.
“Transplants should be removed from the container, separating the root ball gently with your fingers. Place the root ball in a hole slightly bigger than the plant and the top of the root ball even with the soil surface. Water each plant gently not disturbing the root ball. All transplants should be hardened off about ten days before planting by setting them outside for a few hours each day to acclimate,” stated Weiser.
COLORADO’S COMPLEX CLIMATE
Most importantly, plants should be planted at the correct time of year, due to the chance of frost.
“Don’t be fooled by the warm weather, the last date for a hard frost is around Mother’s Day. Cool weather vegetables such as artichokes, beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, onion, peas, potatoes, radishes, and spinach can be planted in April. Warm season vegetables should be planted after the last danger of frost,” said Weiser.
New plants will need extra water.
Currently, 62 percent of the state is still in some sort of drought, and many areas of the state will continue to battle drought conditions throughout the summer. Northern Colorado is not currently shown as in a drought anymore.
“Colorado’s semiarid climate, which is prone to periods of drought, requires that homeowners and land managers care for their landscapes in a responsible water-wise manner. A drought, described as a prolonged period of time of below-average precipitation for a given area, is a serious health threat to new and existing landscapes and plants,” said James Klett, Professor of Landscape Horticulture, Ornamentals, and Nursery Management at Colorado State University.
He continued, “Water is a scarce and limited resource in Colorado, and landscapes are expensive and time consuming to replace; therefore, it is critical to prepare for and practice water saving measures to maintain new and existing landscapes during drought.”
Growing plants in Colorado can be a challenge, no matter what the drought status is.
“Due to Colorado’s high intensity sunlight, low humidity, temperature extremes, windy conditions, and challenging soil characteristics, growing and maintaining a healthy landscape in Colorado can be difficult even when drought conditions are not present. A common watering misconception, given Colorado’s growing environment and recurring periods of drought, is to over water the landscape and not to conserve water,” he explained.
Klett encourages gardeners to know what the water requirements are for their plants.
“Become familiar with specific critical watering periods for each of your vegetable crops. Vegetable quality and yield is directly correlated to the amount of water supplied during the growing season at critical watering periods,” he said.
He added, “Typically water is most critical during the first few weeks of plant development, directly after transplanting and during flowering and fruit production. Vegetables cannot revert to dormancy to avoid drought stress; therefore, it is important not to underwater. Do not over water vegetables since they may rot.”
OTHER SPRING TASKS AT HAND
There are several other yard tasks that should be completed in the spring.
“March and early April, before bud break, are still acceptable times to prune both deciduous and evergreen trees. Summer and fall-blooming shrubs may be pruned at this time, but wait on spring-blooming shrubs like forsythia and lilac—pruning now will result in loss of flowers—prune after these plants have flowered. Early April is an ideal time to remove dead wood from roses and shape them as desired,” said Mama.
Grasses and debris should also be taken care of.
“This is also the time of year where ornamental grasses should be cut back and dead material removed from perennial plants to facilitate new growth. Make sure to allow spring-blooming bulb foliage to yellow before pruning it back—it helps replenish the bulb and store energy for the coming year. If you need a quick fix to draw attention away from the dying foliage, consider planting hardy pansies for a pop of spring color,” she stated.
Lastly, the lawn should be maintained.
“Aerating the lawn in spring helps correct soil compaction and reduces thatch, encouraging water penetration and root growth. The spring is also a good time to fertilize lawns; try to time application during periods of natural moisture,” Mama explained.
Seeding a lawn will also take place in the spring.
“Keep in mind that if you also plan to overseed your lawn, this should not be done concurrently as most pre-emergence herbicides will prevent seed germination, since they have a long soil residual. For the best seed germination, soil temperatures should be consistently greater than 50 degrees Fahrenheit,” she said.
She added, “The spring tasks may seem daunting, but your garden will reward you all season long for your efforts.”
Prepping and planting in the spring is an event that many gardeners look forward to.
Proper planning and care can result in a bountiful harvest come fall. ❖
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