High altitude, intense sunlight and a dry climate conspire to make gardening in Colorado challenging for newcomers and inexperienced or novice gardeners.
Denver may be the Mile High City but the average state elevation is 6,800 feet above sea level, which makes the sunlight and heat more intense. Together with mixed soils, high winds and fluctuating temperatures can overwhelm even the greenest of green thumbs.
With more than 30 types of soils in the state and an erratic temperatures, lawn care and gardening can be a chore but not insurmountable. Some research and regional information including a soil test is always useful before tilling, planting, seeding or landscaping projects.
The Colorado State University Extension, celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year, offers advice for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike at their site: www.ext.colostate.edu.
Among their observations:
• Low humidity, fluctuating temperatures, heavy calcareous soils and drying winds often restrict plant growth more than low temperatures.
• Selecting plants that tolerate our soil and climatic conditions is key to Colorado Gardening.
• Colorado grows excellent vegetables and lawns.
• Gardeners who are patient, know how to select plants that will do well, and manipulate the soil and microclimate, will be amply rewarded.
Composting and mulching are key. A good mulch of bark, leaves, pine needles, wood chips or even newspaper helps retain moisture and nutrients and helps discourage weeds. Mulching also provides cosmetic impact for landscapes around trees and shrubs.
Lawn care and floral or vegetable gardening can always be enhanced by a good compost –– organic materials that can be bought or made at home. The decomposition of organic materials range from leaves, newspapers and dryer lint to fruit or vegetable peels, coffee grounds, and non-meat food scraps. With the cost of fertilizer, pesticides and soaring water bills, a good compost reduces water consumption and can lower a water bill by about 20 percent; acts as a natural pesticide; improves soil condition; and diverts contents from ending up in landfills.
According to the non-profit Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) despite this year’s low rainfalls and current drought conditions, gardens are still manageable.
“Most special gardens will be fine if people are conscientious of how they are watering,” says DUG spokeswoman Abbie Harris. “Hand watering at the base and mulch like old newspapers covered with straw or leaves work fine.”