Cool Season Vegetable Gardens

“It was such a pleasure to sink one’s hands into the warm earth, to feel at one’s fingertips the possibilities of the new season.”

~ Kate Morton

You might think of the growing season as the time between spring’s last frost and autumn’s first frost, but all vegetable gardening doesn’t wait for warm weather to be in the forecast. Cool season vegetables are hardier varieties that tolerate — and even thrive — in the cold soil of early spring.

When Can You Plant?
What’s really important is soil temperature — it must be in the 40°F range for cool season vegetable seeds to germinate. Simply go by the general rule that soil is warm enough when you can easily turn it with a shovel.

What Can You Plant?
Cool-season crops include the salad vegetables: lettuces, kales, chard, onions, peas, and radishes. Everything in the cabbage family (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower) also grows well in the cool spring air. In fact, their flavor often depend on harvesting before the heat of summer sets in.

Planning
To get the most vegetables throughout the year, plan for two “shoulder” seasons of cool-season crops. Plant spring vegetables in April, then follow with warm-season veggies like tomatoes, peppers, and corn in the summer. Then you can plan on planting a second crop of cool-season vegetables in the autumn after the weather cools down.

Location
For your cool-season beds, choose a well-drained spot that gets as much sun as possible. Add some organic matter such as compost or sphagnum peat moss and spade or till it into the soil. You can water less frequently in the cooler seasons since plants will dry slower in cooler temperatures.

Making the Transition from Greenhouse to Garden
Many bare-root vegetables and cool-season crops can make the transition into the outdoor garden — but only after going through a process known as hardening off. This process reduces stress and is essential to the success of your tender plants.

Plants that start life in a greenhouse or under lights in your home spend their time in pampered comfort. The temperature is perfect, the wind doesn’t’ blow, water is always gently and carefully applied, the sun never scorches, and rain never pounds. To prepare them for the harsher realities of life outdoors, they’ll need to gradually acclimate.

For one to two weeks, move the plants outside during the day while temperatures are warm. Then bring them back inside at night when the temperatures chill down. Place them in an area that’s protected from sun and wind. The third week, as long as night temperatures aren’t going to drop below freezing, you can leave the plants in a protected area overnight. After this adjustment period, you should be able to safely leave your plants outside for the season.

Always be Prepared for Frosts
Most cool-weather vegetables can tolerate a light frost, but you’ll want to keep the frost cloths handy for sudden cold snaps and those inconvenient late-spring and early autumn frosts.

You can also protect planted veggies with a Season Starter. These transparent “walls of water” are simple solar shelters that allow the soil to warm to a temperature suitable for plant growth.

Keep the Harvest Going
You can keep the supply of spring veggies going with succession planting. Plant your fast-growing crops in two-week intervals to prolong the availability of lettuce, spinach, peas, and radishes. When the weather gets too warm for these vegetables, you can plant more of them in the shade of taller plants like pole beans and corn. This system is also good for gardeners with limited space.

Growing your own food has always been one of the healthiest (and tastiest!) ways to feed your family. If you can’t wait to get your hands dirty in the garden, give cool-season crops a try!

Early Spring Garden Tips

“I love spring anywhere,
but if I could choose,
I would always greet it
in a garden.”

~ Ruth Stout ~

We all look forward to the spring season with delight each year. The promise of warmer weather, more daylight, and all of those beautiful spring flowers is a welcome reward after a long winter of grey days, icy air, and shoveling snow. Soon trees and shrubs will be budding, bulbs and perennials will begin emerging from the ground, and our gardens will slowly come back to life once again. Though it’s still too early to plant, there’s plenty to do in the garden. Grab your garden tools, and let’s get started!

CARE OF GARDEN TOOLS — Speaking of garden tools, early spring is a good time to make sure they’re ready for the upcoming season. Check your gardening supplies so that you’ll have what you need in the spring. Gives your garden gloves a good wash and dry, or replace worn ones. Take time to clean all tools thoroughly, removing any residual soil, then inspect for damage or rust. If you do find rust, give those areas a good scrub with steel wool. It will be a long season of work for your garden tools, so it’s a good idea to have them sharpened at the beginning of the season. Echter’s can do that for you! Simply bring in your tools (and lawn mower blades), and for a nominal fee, we’ll sharpen them. If you need to replace or add to your garden tool arsenal, stop by. We’re well stocked with all kinds of garden implements — especially at the beginning of the year.

EARLY SPRING CLEANUP — Winter can be hard on your garden! Take a walk around your garden to assess any winter damage. Remove debris leftover from winter storms, and tidy up the garden beds and boxes. Clean up any dead annual or vegetable plants that remained over the winter. Trim back the tattered foliage or old bloom stalks of perennials to encourage new growth to come in. Cut back ornamental grasses as low as possible, so the old foliage won’t detract from the new growth. Don’t be in too big a hurry to remove mulches though. There are plenty of beneficial pollinators overwinter in gardens by hibernating in dried leaf piles and last-season’s perennial plants, and March can still be one of our snowiest months!

PREPARE YOUR SOIL — Now is a good time to add organic amendments like compost and peat moss. Rototill or spade into your garden soil to a depth of 6 inches.

PLAN YOUR VEGETABLE GARDEN — A great vegetable garden starts with a great plan! Make a list of what you’d like to grow, how much area you have, and how many of each plant you’d like to grow. Check seed packets for plants’ mature sizes, sunlight and watering needs, and the yield of the veggies when planning. Then have fun mapping out and designing your planting areas!

IT’S TIME TO PRUNE — If you didn’t get to it in February, you can still do pruning of deciduous trees and shrubs in March. Some exceptions would be birch, maple, walnut, and elm. These should be pruned in mid-summer. In early spring, you can still easily see the branching structure of trees and shrubs before the leaves start coming in. Begin by removing the three Ds: anything dead, damaged, or diseased. Then move on to any crossed branches (branches that rub against another), water sprouts (branches that grow straight up from the branch), and suckers (branches that spring up from the base of the tree or shrub). Generally speaking, remove young branches that are growing inwards towards the center of the tree as opposed to outwards. Use a pole pruner to reach branches up to about 15 ft. off the ground. Pruning paints and wound dressings are not recommended on the pruning cuts. If you missed it, here’s a deeper dive into late-winter pruning.

GET STARTED ON SOME EARLY LAWN CARE — As in other areas of the garden, begin by checking for any problems that may have developed. Once the snow has melted off your lawn, check the turf in shaded areas for snow mold, a fungus that is white to pink in color and grows on the surface of the grass blades. If you see evidence of snow mold, lightly rake the affected areas and dispose of the debris. Any remaining mold should dissipate on its own after that.

LAWNS SHOULD BE CORE AERATED once or twice each year. That’s done by poking holes in the ground and pulling out plugs. This reduces soil compaction and helps control thatch in lawns while also helping water and fertilizer move into the root zone. Schedule your lawn for an aeration in March, and prepare by marking your sprinkler heads to avoid having them damaged. Water the lawn the day before aerating, so it will be softer and easier to pull plugs. Then water again after aeration to help the lawn recover. Leaving the plugs on the surface will help break down the thatch that has accumulated.

GET A HEAD START ON WEEDS — You can begin to get ahead of weeds by choosing a lawn fertilizer with a pre-emergent as your first feeding of the year. This will prevent annual weed seeds from germinating, and give your lawn a chance to thicken up and discourage weeds on its own. It’s best to apply these after aerating the lawn. This is important because aerating after a pre-emergent will greatly reduce its effectiveness!

OVERSEEDING — As the weather begins to reliably warm up in March, you can begin overseeding thin areas of lawn. Rake areas to be seeded to expose and loosen the soil, then apply a thin layer of Nature’s Yield Compost . Use a high-quality seed blended for your conditions. Echter’s has many different blends to choose from. A hand spreader will help to apply the seed evenly. After seeding, be sure to keep the surface area moist until the seed is well germinated.

PLANT COLD-HARDY CROPS — While it’s too early to plant tender, warm-season plants, it is time to plant some early cold-hardy crops. Things like onion sets, bare-root strawberries, asparagus roots and seed potatoes can be sowed directly into the vegetable garden in March. Be sure to keep a frost blanket handy for any late-season frosts, just to be on the safe side.

START SEEDS INDOORS — Now is the time to start broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kohlrabi, alyssum, lobelia, pansy, and geranium seeds inside for planting out later in the spring. Start tomatoes and peppers inside now, then they’ll be ready to transfer to the garden beds in late May.

PREPARE BIRDHOUSES FOR THE BUSY SPRING SEASON — Returning birds will be looking for real estate soon! In preparation for the new arrivals, clean out and sterilize last year’s birdhouses, or put up new ones. Make sure any older birdhouses are still firmly mounted as well. It’s a good time to perform bird feeder maintenance too. Clean out all feeders and fill with fresh seed. You may also want to consider creating a pile of nesting materials to make your yard extra inviting for this year’s visitors.

Late Winter Pruning Checklist

Pruning allows what’s left to grow into something beautiful.

Late winter is an ideal time for pruning deciduous trees and shrubs. There’s no foliage growth yet, so the shape of the tree is easy to see — and so are any problems that need to be corrected through pruning! Pruning doesn’t need to be an overwhelming chore though. If you follow a simple checklist each year, you can keep up with this winter gardening task and keep your trees healthy. Gather your pruning tools, and let’s get started!

The three Ds: Dead, Diseased, Damaged

Begin your pruning by removing any of the three Ds — anything that’s diseased, damaged, or dead. Broken and damaged branches are more than just unsightly. They open the tree up to pests and disease. Prune back to at least 6 inches below the diseased area into healthy wood.

Removing dead branches is an obvious pruning task, but how do you know if a branch is dead or just dormant? Scrape away a small part of the bark, If it’s alive, it will be green underneath. If it’s dead, it will be hard and brown inside. You can also try the “bend test.” Bend the branch gently. A live branch will bend, but a dead branch will snap.

Water Sprouts and Suckers

Next, look for suckers and water sprouts and remove them. Water sprouts are newer branches growing straight upwards through the tree, whereas suckers are new growth springing up around the base of the tree.

Water sprouts are caused by heavy pruning in previous years, or by stress to the tree. To prune them away, cut at the base making sure to preserve the branch collar. The branch collar is a swollen area at the base of the water sprout. Prune to about 1/2″ away from the branch collar.

Crossing & Competing Branches

Look for branches that are not growing out from the center of the tree. These may be branches that, like water sprouts, grow straight upwards through the canopy. Also look for branches that are growing inwards towards the trunk. These branches are called competing branches because they compete for space, sun, and nutrients with healthier branches. Cut these away, so what remains are only healthy branches that are growing outwards from the main trunk.

Crossing branches are branches that grow across another. If left in place, these can rub against another branch causing damage. Removing a crossing branch ensures you won’t have to removed a damaged branch next winter!

The overall shape of the tree should be clearly visible now. Step back and look at the overall structure of the tree. If it still seems a little overcrowded in spots, prune until the shape is more even. You might want to raise the canopy a bit — that is, prune away any branches that are just too low. If there are branches that are in the way each time you mow in the summer, go ahead and remove them.

Renew an Overgrown Shrub

For shrubs that may have become overgrown and leggy through the years, a late-winter pruning can be done to improve shape, vigor, and blooming. Prune away the oldest and weakest canes at or near the ground level. This will improve the overall height & shape and should result in more foliage and better flower quality.

NOTE: It’s crucial to do a little homework before you begin pruning. If you prune spring-blooming shrubs (think lilac, forsythia, etc.) in late winter, you’ll be cutting off this spring’s blooms! Some shrubs (like hydrangea macrophylla) bloom on “old wood,” which means last year’s new canes. If you prune out the old wood on these shrubs, you’ll cut off the canes that would be blooming this year! So, a little judicious research will ensure you’re pruning the right shrub at the right time of year.

That’s it! If you keep up with this pruning checklist each winter, it should never become an overwhelming chore, and your trees and shrubs will be much healthier when springtime arrives.

Why Start Seeds Indoors?

“All the flowers of all the tomorrows are in the seeds
of today.”

~ Indian Proverb

Why should you consider starting this year’s garden indoors? Why not just wait until the last frost date passes, and plant seeds directly in the garden beds? There are lots of reasons — especially in Colorado — why getting a head start on the season is such a good idea. 

Get a Jump on the Growing Season
Besides just being a lot of fun, one of the best reasons to start seeds indoors is that here in Colorado, the growing season tends to be rather short — even more so in the mountain communities! Being able to set young plants out (as opposed to sowing seed directly) allows your crops to be a few weeks ahead at the beginning of the season, and that means earlier harvests of those tasty spring and summer veggies!

Grow a Warm-Season Crop in a Short-Season Climate
Everyone’s favorite summer vegetables usually have a long growing season. Beans, corn, and tomatoes can require anywhere from 60-100 days from seed to maturity, and those bright October pumpkins require 120 days! If you have to wait for the outdoor soil to reach the optimal temperature for growing, you’ll miss out on valuable growing days. Considering Colorado’s growing season is only an average of 150 days, getting started earlier sure can be an advantage. Start these popular summer crops weeks earlier by seeding indoors, and start enjoying those juicy tomatoes a little sooner!

When it comes to starting perennial flowers from seed, you may be able to get first-year blooms on flowers that usually don’t flower until their second year in the garden. Varieties that benefit from a head start indoors are: Asters, Black-eyed Susans, Coleus, and Lavender.

Grow a Variety That Isn’t Offered as a Starter Plant
You might also consider starting from seed if you’d like to try varieties of veggies that your local garden center doesn’t offer as “starts” or young plants in the spring. By growing your own vegetables from seed, you have more varieties available to you. For example, while we grow more than 200 different types of vegetable plants each year here at Echter’s, we can’t offer every variety of every crop. Sometimes there may be something you’d like to grow in your garden that we don’t offer. Seed gardening is a great way to grow those extra-special varieties that may not be commonly available.

Fun for kids
If you’ve got little gardeners around the house, the process of planting a dry, dead looking seed into soil, then watching it sprout and grow into a live plant is nothing less than magic! It can also provide a valuable lesson in where our food comes from. One small seed can grow a lot more than a plant. It just might grow a lifelong love of gardening.

A Word of Caution
With some crops, it can be beneficial to just wait until after the last spring frost and sow directly into the garden. This tends to be true of root vegetables like radishes and carrots. Root crops are fussy about being transplanted because no matter how careful you are during the transplanting process, there’s bound to be some minor root damage, and that will show up in the final vegetable. Direct sowing produces better results in those plants.

There’s so much satisfaction that comes from starting your garden from seed. You control what’s going into your food crops, you can save money, and you have access to a greater variety of plants. One of the nicest things about seed gardening is having something green and growing during the grey days of winter. Pay us a visit, and be inspired by all the crops and varieties that are available this year!

Nurturing Houseplants in Winter

Now that our doors and windows are closed for the winter, houseplants provide a welcome splash of life and color in our indoor landscape.

Fresh, vibrant, and green, those innocent looking houseplants contribute much more than just a touch of color though. They play a significant role in keeping stale, recirculated air clean. Plants create fresh oxygen, filter dangerous toxins out of the air, and add a bit of fresh air to any room they live in. For the most part, houseplants are pretty easy to care for, but the winter season can present some special challenges for them. Here are a few quick tips to make your indoor garden a successful one.

BUMP UP THE AVAILABLE LIGHT
Adequate light is one of the most important environmental factors in successfully growing plants indoors. Too little light may make your plant leggy with spindly new growth. Let your plants receive as much light as possible during the darker winter days. As the angle of the sun changes and the days get shorter, you may want to rearrange your plants to ensure they’re getting sufficient light in the winter months.

If you don’t have a sunny windowsill to house your indoor garden, grow lights can be especially useful. The proper lighting can supplement sunlight, or replace it entirely in the winter! Echter’s carries everything from full-spectrum bulbs to fluorescent grow tubes that fit in standard fixtures. Add some digital timers, and getting enough hours of light for your houseplants becomes effortless!

CHOOSE PLANT LOCATIONS CAREFULLY
Place your plants well away from winter’s chill. Don’t put them near entry doors where they will be exposed to cold drafts. Make sure the leaves of your plants living in window areas don’t actually touch the window. Minimize exposing plants to temperature extremes by placing them well away from your heating system’s air vents and also away from your fireplace.

DECREASE WATER & FOOD
Remember that indoor plants need less water & fertilizer during the short days of winter. Shorter days mean less growth, so you’ll want to water only when your plants require it.

Overwatering is the number one killer of houseplants! Frequent watering forces air from the soil and opens the door for root-killing bacteria and fungus to move in. Surface soil can dry out more quickly during winter months, but that’s not a good indicator that the plant needs water. Push your finger into the soil to determine if it is dry an inch or two below the surface—that’s when it’s time to bring out the watering can. Avoid shocking your plants’ roots by using room-temperature water in the winter. Use fertilizer at half strength every other time you water until about mid-March.

INCREASE THE HUMIDITY
Houseplants will benefit from added humidity. Humidifiers are great, but you can also use a simple-to-make pebble tray. Take an oversized saucer, add pebbles, and fill halfway with water. Then place your plant on the pebbles. As the water evaporates, add more, but don’t let the plant sit in water. 

KEEP A SHARP EYE
OUT FOR PESTS
Dry air in our winter-warm homes can create a favorable environment for pests. Keep a close eye on your plants’ leaves for signs of problems. Periodically check your plants with a magnifying glass.

Thoroughly check the undersides of leaves, stems, and branch axils. Look for common plant pests such as spider mites, mealybugs, whiteflies, & fungus gnats. Spotting problems and responding to them early can keep populations from exploding.

Just as winter is a season of rest for the outdoor garden (and the gardener!), consider it an off season for your houseplants, and give them a season of rest too. Give them the essentials, but leave things like repotting and propagation until spring when your plants begin growing actively again. Next spring, after a long winter’s nap, your plants will be ready to get growing again!

Putting the Garden to Bed

In October, when the temperatures finally begin to cool, it’s a welcome sign that soon both gardens and gardeners will be able to settle in for a well-earned winter’s rest.

Those cozy evenings by the fireside will be here before we know it, but this month, there’s still plenty to be done to get the garden ready for its dormant period, and also to prepare for next year’s busy growing season!

BEGIN BY CLEANING UP THE BEDS
Start the winterizing process with a good cleanup! A proper cleanup this fall will improve overall plant health for the following year. Begin by removing any weeds. They’re sending their energy into their roots just like all the other plants at this time of year. You’ll want to get them out, so they don’t spread seed or dig deeper roots over the winter.

You’ll also want to clean up dropped fruit under fruit trees. Fruits and vegetables left out all winter will only rot, attract animals, and set seed. Remove all vegetable plants that are finished producing for the season. Dispose of plants which had insects or disease. You don’t want to put those in the compost pile. The same goes for weeds. Pull out all dead plant material. This helps keep your garden healthy through the winter and helps protect against pests.

CUTTING BACK & PRUNING
Many perennials and ornamental grasses add seasonal interest to the garden with attractive seed heads and plumes. Choose what you would like to remain intact and tidy up others by cutting tall stems back to the base foliage.

Cutting old and diseased foliage in the fall can help perennials jump right into new growth come spring. However, do not prune early-flowering shrubs such as lilac, forsythia, certain varieties of hydrangea, or rhododendron. These have already set next spring’s flower buds. Pruning now would remove next spring’s blooms! Spring bloomers like these can get a haircut right after they finish flowering next year.

AMEND THE SOIL — Autumn is a great time to amend your soil by working in organic matter. The addition of compost now will improve the soil next spring. Rototilling, or turning the soil over, will reduce insect and disease problems next year. Be sure to do this while the soil is dry.

ADD MULCH — Renewing all mulches in the autumn will yield several benefits. It helps maintain a consistent soil temperature, retains moisture, and prevents exposure of roots — which is a common cause of winter damage. Apply mulch around perennial plants — especially those that have been recently planted — as well as around trees and shrubs.

PREPARE FOR THOSE EARLY FROSTS — Keep an eye on those weather apps for nighttime temps dipping to or below freezing, and keep the frost blankets handy. A little protection for the first frost or two ensures your plants will continue to thrive in the warm autumn days that invariably follow a frost. If you run out of frost blankets, be sure to cover with a similar breathable material. Plastic is not recommended for frost protection because condensation beneath the plastic may lead to ice formation, which can damage the foliage.

TO HARVEST, OR NOT TO HARVEST — THAT IS THE QUESTION!

Though you may be able to extend the season by using floating row covers and frost blankets for the first autumn frost or two, generally it’s time to pull the warm-season veggie plants and put any harvests on the table for dinner. Here is a brief list of what to protect and when to call it a season:

Beans will not tolerate frost. Harvest and put them on the dinner menu.

Corn is frost sensitive and also should be harvested rather than covered.

Harvest all unprotected tomatoes and peppers. Unripened tomatoes can be placed in a paper bag or between sheets of newspaper to continue ripening indoors. Be sure to check on them often throughout their ripening process.

Cucumbers and summer squash should be harvested and thoroughly wiped dry before storing. Thin-skinned cucumbers do not store well and those should be eaten within a few days.

WHAT NOT TO
HARVEST … YET
Not all crops need to be hurriedly harvested before an autumn frost. Some cool-season vegetables are actually improved by the cold!

– Root crops like carrots and beets can remain in the ground until there’s a danger of the soil freezing. The soil acts as their protection from frost.
Celery and late cabbage can be harvested after you notice the frost has slowed their growth.
– Don’t harvest winter squash or pumpkins yet! Wait until their vines are frost-killed and their skins are hard to the thumbnail.
Kale and collards can be left in the garden until long after the first fall frost. Continue to harvest as needed until the foliage finally succumbs to the cold weather.
Potatoes should be harvested after the vines die down, so the potato skin has a chance to mature. This makes them less susceptible to bruises, cuts, and moisture loss during storage.
Lettuces and salad greens can be covered with frost cloth.
Onions should be harvested only after the frost has stopped their growth.

For a deeper dive into methods of storing vegetables for the winter, the Colorado State University Extension provides this handy fact sheet.

TO RAKE, OR NOT TO RAKE? Rake! Although some fallen leaves can be mulched back into the soil with your lawn mower, most turf grasses will not tolerate a thick mat of leaves over the winter. Soggy mats of leaves on turf can lead to disease problems. You can add dry leaves to the compost pile, or shred & dig directly into your vegetable beds to improve the soil over the winter.

Aerate your lawn to loosen compacted soil, and apply Green Thumb Winterizer in mid-October. Your lawn will be nice and green in the spring. For the final mowing of the season, leave your grass at a height of 2½”.

Bindweed, dandelion, and other perennial weeds will be moving food reserves down to their roots now. This is a great time to use Weed Free Zone to kill these invasive weeds, roots and all.

Before you drain your sprinkler system for the year, give your lawn a good watering. Continue to hand water as long as temperatures remain above freezing.

Put a trip to Echter’s on your autumn to-do list! We’ll help you tackle putting your garden to bed. Then you can feel free to settle back and enjoy the season knowing that your garden is well-prepared for a long winter’s nap!

Spring Bulb Planting 101

It just wouldn’t be spring without the bright, cheery blooms of tulips, daffodils, and crocus emerging from the ground to usher in the season! If you’ve never tried planting bulbs before, you’ll find it’s both fun and easy to create a beautiful spring display right in your own yard. Surprisingly, the time to plant them is in the autumn!

Why do you plant spring-flowering bulbs in the autumn? It’s because they require a long period of cool temperatures to spark the biochemical process that causes them to flower next spring. Because of that, it’s important to get them into the ground in the autumn before the ground freezes.

What is a bulb?
It’s really a self-contained flower factory! Each bulb has nearly everything the future flower needs to survive the winter and come to life in the spring. If you were to look inside the bulb, you would see a baby flower bud, leaves, roots, stem, and a food supply.


Plan Carefully for Color All Season Long!
With a little planning, you can have blooms starting before the snow melts and continuing into early summer. For an entire season of color, you’ll need to stagger bloom times. Check the packaging to see whether the bulbs are early, middle, or late spring bloomers. Begin by choosing some early bloomers like snowdrops and crocus. Then pick out some colorful tulips, hyacinths, & daffodils. These will provide mid-season color. Lastly, follow up with some of the late-season bloomers like Dutch iris and alliums. Mix or match your color scheme, it’s up to you!

Pay attention to the final height of each flower at maturity. Be sure to plant taller flowers at the back of a bed with shorter blooms in the front. This information is available on the bulb packaging as well. Armed with this information, all that’s left to do is plant them in the ground and wait for spring.

When to plant
You can plant spring flowering bulbs in the autumn after the temperatures cool down, but before the ground freezes. Visit your garden center early in the autumn for the best selection. If you can’t plant your spring bulbs right away, be sure to keep them in a cool, dry location (like a garage or basement) until you can get them in the ground. Warm storage conditions will signal the bulb to begin growing!

Where Should I Plant Them?
There are several factors to consider. First, look for a sunny location. Bulbs prefer full sun to rejuvenate for future years, so look for a part of your garden where they’ll receive at least six hours of sun each day. Also, look for a location with good drainage. Bulbs do not like “wet feet,” so you won’t want to place them anywhere water tends to collect in your yard. Lastly, consider planting your earliest blooming bulbs in a location you’ll be able to enjoy from inside your home! They’ll be a welcome splash of color on those still-chilly early-spring days, and you won’t have to step outside to enjoy them.

How Deep Should Bulbs be Planted?
You’ll want to dig a hole that’s three to four times the height of the bulb being planted. This means most large bulbs like tulips & daffodils will be planted about six to eight inches deep, while smaller bulbs like crocus will be planted 3-4″ deep.

Preparing to Plant
Your Color Show
After digging a hole to the proper depth, be sure to remove any weeds, rocks or other debris. Bulbs prefer humus-rich soils, so it’s important to add soil amendments like compost or sphagnum peat moss when planting in order to improve both drainage and moisture retention. Add a handful of bulb food or bone meal at the bottom of the hole, then place the bulb into the hole with the pointed tip upwards, and the flatter root end down.

No Yard? No Problem!
You can successfully grow bulbs in containers! Hold your bulbs indoors until mid-October before planting. Then fill your container part way with Echter’s Outdoor Container mix. Then plant lasagna style, beginning with the largest bulbs at the lowest level. Then add more soil and place the next level of bulbs. Continue to the top of the pot, then add a final layer of soil.

Water thoroughly, and place your container in an unheated garage or shed for the winter. In March, bring it out, and place it in a nice sunny location again. Water as needed, and your spring bulbs will be blooming in just a few weeks!

Bulbs are among the easiest flowers to grow. They require so little of the gardener — just a sunny spot and a few inches of well-drained soil. Water them occasionally, and let them work their magic over the winter. You’ll find this is one autumn garden task that pays big rewards the following spring!

Extending the Harvest

With the summer harvest season in full swing, the last thing you may be thinking about is planting more vegetables. But why give up popping out the back door to harvest fresh veggies just because summer is drawing to a close? Smart gardeners know that late summer is the ideal time to plant another round of crisp, fresh, cool-season veggies to extend the harvest just a little longer.

Late summer is prime time for sowing seeds! The soil is still warm from summer temperatures, so seeds germinate more easily. By the time seedlings are up and growing, the air temperatures will have begun to cool as autumn weather settles in. Warm soil & cool air —you couldn’t ask for better growing conditions!

Autumn gardening offers a few advantages over spring & summer as well. Spring planting problems (like bolting because of heat and pesky garden pests) aren’t an issue in the autumn. Even though frost is a necessary consideration, some vegetables are even sweeter after a light frost. So if you’re thinking of squeezing in a little more gardening before the season truly ends, grab your favorite cool-season veggie seeds and a calendar, and get sowing!

Successfully extending the vegetable season depends on a little careful planning. Begin by learning the average date of the first autumn frost in your area. Once you know this, consult the seed packet to find the days to maturity for each particular crop. For the peas in the seed packet to the left, it will be 62-75 days from sowing seed to mature peas. Armed with this information, count backwards on the calendar to find the date you should sow the seed. Simple!

TIP: You may want to pad your planting estimates with an extra couple of weeks. As the days grow shorter, there will be less sunlight for growing, and daytime temperatures will also be cooler. What may have grown quickly in the warming soil and lengthening days of spring, may take just a little longer in the autumn.

As you remove fading summer vegetable crops from your garden, it’s easy to plug in a frost-tolerant, cool-season crop in its place. Begin by adding a soil amendment to replenish essential micro-organisms, provide nutrients, and improve the overall condition of the soil. It takes healthy soil to grow healthy plants!

Lastly, be prepared for those early autumn frosts! Though there are a number of frost-tolerant crops that will laugh at a light frost, sometimes Mother Nature does something unexpected! It’s wise to be ready to give your plants an extra bit of help if necessary. Make sure to keep frost cloths & blankets, fleece tunnels & jackets, etc. at hand and ready to go on short notice. Keep a close eye on weather forecasts and forecasted overnight low temps. Protect your plants, and they’ll be able to keep right on growing in the Indian Summer that inevitably follows a first frost event.

Now … what to plant and when? With an average frost date of mid-October for our Zone 5 Colorado gardens, try planting these popular cool-weather loving crops in late August to early September. They are reliable favorites.

Go ahead and enjoy another round of leafy greens like spinach, chard, watercress, kale, and lettuces. Peas are another favorite for the autumn garden.

Root vegetables like carrots, beets, turnips, and radishes are popular choices that also do well in cool-season Colorado gardens.

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kohlrabi will enjoy sunny days and cool nights in the autumn garden. They can all tolerate a light frost.

Autumn gardening can be rewarding and fun as long as you’re knowledgeable and prepared. Why not get just one more vegetable harvest in before winter arrives? Those late-season veggies will taste mighty good in soups & stews come January!

Harvesting Summer’s Sweet Rewards!

Knowing when and how to harvest is an especially important part of growing your own food. Why? Because it affects the quality, flavor, and nutritional value of your homegrown produce! But how do you know when something is fully ripe, and what’s the best way to harvest? Scroll through, and check out our tips on how to harvest popular crops in Colorado.

Let’s start with the jewels of the garden — tomatoes! For the best taste and the highest nutritional value, you’ll want to leave your tomatoes on the vine until they’re fully colored, then gently twist and pull from the vine. The trick is in what “fully colored” looks like. Gone are the days when you could wait for a tomato to be a rich, vibrant red before confidently plucking it from the vine.

Nowadays tomato varieties comprise a rainbow of colors — yellows, oranges, greens, stripes, and even sprinkles! It’s particularly important to know what your ripe tomato should look like. If in doubt, a ripe tomato will give slightly to the touch. It it’s not ripe, it will still feel quite hard. Another tell-tale sign is how resistant the tomato is to being picked. If it hangs onto the vine for dear life when you try to pluck it, it’s not ready yet! If you’re growing heirloom varieties, you should pick them just shy of full color because they generally ripen before their color deepens.

When to Harvest Root Vegetables?

Beets … Most beet varieties are ready to pull about two months from planting. For baby beets, you’ll want to harvest earlier, when the roots are 1½” across. Letting beets stay in the ground too long will yield tough, woody roots!

Carrots … Carrots may be harvest young (at about ½” diameter) for baby roots, or allowed to grow to full size for storage. Not sure if they’re ready to harvest? Pull a few carrots for a quick taste test. If they’re crisp and sweet, they ready to eat. (TIP: loosen the surrounding soil before attempting to pull up a carrot. Carrots are notorious for breaking off when they’re pulled.)

Potatoes … After the potato plants have flowered, you may dig some of the potatoes to enjoy as “new” or “baby” potatoes. If you want to harvest full-sized potatoes, allow the tops to die back in the autumn, then dig up the tubers.

Check These Heavy Producers Daily!

Cucumbers … Harvest when they’re firm and smooth. Check on them often! If they’re left on the vine & become too large, they can become bitter and pithy. Use your garden shears or pruners to neatly clip these from the vine. This will prevent possible damage to the vine caused by twisting or pulling. Cut the stem approximately ¼” above the cucumber.

Green Beans … Pick them when the pod has filled out, but before you can see the seeds bulging. Simply grasp the bean pod firmly up near the top where it connects to the vine, then use your thumb to gently pinch it loose.

Zucchini … There are two things to remember about harvesting zucchini — pick young and pick often! These can quickly become too large. Zucchini is at its most tender and flavorful when it’s about 5″-7″ long and you can easily poke your fingernail through the skin. Use a sharp knife (or your pruners) to cut from the vine. (TIP: you can also harvest those delicious yellow flowers! Enjoy them raw in salads.)

Harvest this summer favorite after the silks become brown and dry. The ear should be completely filled out, and the end should be rounded instead of pointed.

Peppers, Peppers, Peppers

Bell Peppers … These grow in a range of colors including green, red, dark purple, yellow, and orange. In general, they’re ready to harvest when they are the full color of the variety planted. You can harvest bell peppers when they’re green. If you allow them to stay on the vine to ripen further, green peppers may turn red, then orange, then yellow! Purple varieties will turn from green to a dark purple to nearly black. Bells can be eaten at any stage during this ripening process, however the longer you leave them on the plant, the sweeter they become and the higher the Vitamin C content will be. To harvest, use a sharp knife or scissors to cleanly cut peppers from the plant to ensure the least damage to both pepper and plant.

Chile Peppers … Both mild and hot peppers can be harvested when they reach full size and are fully colored. They can also be harvested as soon as they reach a usable size. Chiles can be eaten at just about any stage of development. Mild peppers commonly get sweeter as they mature, while hot peppers get hotter the longer they’re left on the plant. To harvest: cut peppers from the plant with pruners. Leave a short stub of stem attached to the fruit. Do NOT pull peppers from the plant by hand — this can result in broken branches.

With eggplant, slightly immature & smaller fruits are tastier and will contain less seeds. Eggplants should be firm and shiny when fully ripe. Cut with a knife or pruners rather than trying
to pull from the plant.

Winter squash … such as acorn, spaghetti, buttercup, butternut, and Hubbard are ready to harvest when you cannot puncture the skin with your thumbnail and the stems are dry and begin to shrivel. Use pruners to cut cleanly from the vine.

Harvest pumpkins when they’re fully colored and the skin is hard enough to resist a fingernail puncture. They should sound hollow when thumped. Use a sharp knife or pruners to cut the pumpkin from the vine. Leave about 2″ of stem, and handle carefully. Any nicks or bruises will accelerate decay.

After the Harvest
Look for signs of trouble, such as yellowing leaves, rotting fruit, or unwanted pests. Be sure to put any plants that have disease or insect infestations into the trash — not the compost pile!

Healthy plant foliage can go into the compost pile after removing any seed heads. Remove any weeds from the vegetable garden, then improve the soil with compost, or plant a cover crop in the bed to overwinter.

Remember to Share the Harvest
If you find yourself with an overabundance of anything (we’re lookin’ at you, zucchini!) always remember to share the harvest with friends, family, and neighbors. If their cupboards are full, donations of fresh, homegrown vegetables are welcomed at your local food bank! After all, the summer harvest should be a season of plenty for everyone.

Bulb-a-licious

Bulbs are the sentinels of spring. We spend all winter in anxious anticipation of the rainbow of blooms that spring forth from those tiny little bulbs we plant in the fall. Bulbs should be planted now if you plan to enjoy them in spring. They need to go through the winter cold in the ground in order to bloom the following spring. In the world of bulbs, a little planning is required. Those that flower in spring need to be planted in the fall. Those that flower in late summer can be planted in early spring.hoa-ha-lan6-605781-1371470690_500x0

 

In the snowy month of March, you will see crocus peeking through the snow. Use them in borders of the garden, edging, in the grass, woodlands, and slopes or under trees. The colors range from white, yellow and striped to lavender and deep purple. These bulbs care little about spring snow and insist on flowering regardless of cold temperatures or severe weather. In addition to Crocus the Muscari, Anemone Blanda , and Galanthus bloom early.

crocus

The most popular bulb is the Tulip. We have many different types of tulip bulbs. The tulip has varieties that bloom in March, April and May, depending on the type you choose. Darwin hybrids are well known for their dependable performance, year after year. Tulips look best when planted in groupings of 5 or more bulbs. This will provide you with a patch of bright color that can be fit among existing perennials in the garden. Try planting in larger swaths of color where you might plant a border of annuals. Once the bulbs are done blooming, it will be time to plant your annuals. Your bedding plants will then disguise the bulb foliage while providing your summer garden color.

darwin tulips

Spring just wouldn’t be complete without the ever-dependable Daffodil. They just announce the word Spring with their everlasting beauty. Daffodils are perfect for rock gardens, borders and beds. They are offered in a wide range of colors and shapes and are perfect plant for naturalizing. Daffodil ‘Golden Bells’ is new for 99. Also known as the Yellow Hoop Petticoat, it has as many as 15 stems per bulb. A group of 5 or so will form a carpet of dainty, upward facing bright golden bells in your garden next spring.

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