Tips for a successful gardening season at 7,000 feet

Even if you don’t have your own plot of land, planting in containers or raised beds can make any space a green space, and in Routt County, gardeners often prefer it. 
File photo

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — With spring in full swing, it’s time to start planning this summer’s garden.

Even if you don’t have your own plot of land, planting in containers or raised beds can make any space a green space, and in Routt County, gardeners often prefer it.

If you don’t have a green thumb, the Routt County Master Gardeners are ready with an arsenal of know-how about what to plant where and when and what to do when it goes wrong.

Consider your soil

Much of Routt County has soils high in clay, so it doesn’t drain well, leaving plants with wet roots. Soils with more organic material allow water to flow through, instead of retaining that water.

“You think about the potting mix you get — like for household plants that you go to Ace or Walmart and you buy a bag — it’s got so much humus in it that water kind of goes right through it, but plants love it,” said Routt County Master Gardener Jackie Buratovich. “We’re on the other end of the spectrum here with high silt, high clay (soils), and some plants don’t like their feet being wet. The clay soils do not drain very well.”

Buratovich said this is why many local gardeners grow in raised beds, greenhouses or containers. While it can be easier to finagle old pallets by pulling them apart to build a raised bed or to thrift pots and reuse buckets for a container garden, you’ll likely have to purchase soil with more organic material.

“It’s hard to get good soil free,” Buratovich said. “You can go to the Milner Mall and get all kinds of fun stuff to put your soil in, but you have to go out and probably purchase some soil that you’d want to grow in.”

Think about where your water comes from

If you plan to grow plants on well water, consider what’s in your water.

“We’re on the hot springs aquifer,” Buratovich said.

All of the springs in the Steamboat Springs area contain salt and other minerals, and while plants can handle a little well water, Buratovich said hers die if they receive more than a couple of sprinklings of mineral water.

With a short season, learn what you can grow

Routt County’s growing season is around 60 to 80 days, depending on where in the county someone is growing, Buratovich said.

By buying young plants, instead of starting them from seeds, you can get from planting to fruit more quickly, though this is a bit more expensive.

“You can get a tomato that is ready to put in a pot or put in a raised bed, and it’ll give you fruit from maybe as little as 60 days from the day you put it in its final growing place,” Buratovich said.

Different areas receive varying amounts of light at different times of the summer.

Your choice of plant should be suited for where it’s growing — whether it’s a south-facing raised bed in a backyard that’ll be sunny all summer long or a north-facing container that receives less light and will remain cooler.

For this short season, Buratovich recommends cool season crops — any of the leafy greens, snap peas, onions, garlic and many herbs.

“Some of the lettuces (mature in) 30 days, so you can have a couple of crops in our growing season,” she said.

For those seeking a garden that looks good rather than plants you can put on your plate, annual plants give a good variety of colorful options to meet gardening goals, and they’ll last until the first fall frost, Buratovich said.

Most annuals can’t survive the intensity of the West Slope sun without daily watering, she said. You can also find annuals that attract butterflies, help create habitat for pollinators, such as bees, or are resistant to deer and other animals.

If you’re looking for something that will survive the frost or go dormant and return next spring, Buratovich recommends planting native perennials, such as sages and serviceberries. She said hollyhocks, salvias, irises and Oriental poppies are easy to grow here.

Know who to ask for help

The Master Gardeners hold office hours, make house visits and can answer questions via phone call or email.

They’ll also be coming together Wednesday to share their know-how at “An Evening with the Master Gardeners.” The open house event will have experts on hand to address nearly any question you can think of: weeds, pests, composting, perennials, planting trees, greenhouse gardening to extend the growing season, gardening with kids, backyard chickens and bees, how to grow a single serving salad in one pot and more. If you’re new to Routt County, Buratovich will be answering new residents’ questions.

If you can’t make the open house, there are numerous fact sheets addressing these topics and more available online at extension.colostate.edu/publications. During the growing season, Master Gardeners are in the Colorado State Extension office from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. every Thursday.

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