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!

5 Smart Ways to Deer-Proof Your Garden

Each summer we get questions from exasperated gardeners asking, “What can I plant that the deer won’t eat?” It’s a complicated subject, since what works for one gardener might not work for another. However, there are a few smart garden strategies that you can try that may make your garden less attractive to deer.

Your first line of defense is always to make smart plant choices. Be aware of plants deer favor, and make sure you’re not stocking your garden with a buffet of their favorites! Armed with a little information, you may be able to plant your solution to the deer problem and discourage them naturally.

Deer tend to like plants that are smooth, tender, and flavorful. Plants such as arborvitae, tulips, hosta, daylilies, and roses are favorites. What they do not like are plants that are highly aromatic, prickly, thorny, fuzzy, or plants that contain a milky sap like milkweed. They also naturally avoid plants that are toxic such as foxglove, daffodils and poppies.

So, what types of plants are deer resistant? Some good shrub choices are: Holly, Barberry, Spirea, Boxwood, and Lilac. For the herb and vegetable garden try: onions, garlic, sage, tarragon, lavender, mint, and rosemary. Deer-resistant flowering plants include: Peony, Marigolds, Forget-me-not, Bee Balm, and Iris. Ornamental grasses in general are not a favorite of deer, but within that category try planting Blue Fescue, Golden Hakone grass, or a Black Mondo grass

As for that elusive deer-proof plant — there is no single plant that is guaranteed to be completely “deer proof!” As Dr. James Klett, Professor of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture at Colorado State University states, “Deer — if they’re hungry enough — are going to eat anything. If there is a completely deer-resistant plant out there, I don’t know what it is.”

If you think in terms of which plants deer do and don’t prefer, you can begin to plan your garden with a bit more foresight and strategy. Since deer tend to be skittish about coming in close to a living area & would rather remain near the safety of the forest, try planting your deer-favorite plants (like tulips and roses) close to the house. Also, planting less-preferred plants in a protective ring around those that are more desirable can be an effective strategy.

Try planting confusing combinations of plants. “I was sure there were daylilies in there somewhere”, Bambi complains, “but all I could smell was garlic!

Another deer-repelling strategy you can try is to “foul the fringes” — that is, line the perimeter of your property with unpalatable plants. Strategically placed hedges or thorny shrubs can serve as a natural way to redirect the deer and discourage lingering to feed on more attractive plants nearer to your home. Clever!

Deer don’t go past anything they can’t see through or over. You can make that work in your favor. Use solid hedges of pungent junipers or form trellises with fragrant morning glories. If deer can’t see what’s inside, they’re less likely to take that leap of faith onto your property.

Try working with their favorite plants combined with their desire to stay near the safety of their forest home. Plant things they DO like well away from your garden. A feast of their favorite flowers (delphinium, phlox, hosta and pansy) may have them nibbling, then heading safely back into the forest. It can be your sacrificial garden. The idea is to leave them thinking, “Why brave the garden close to the house, when the good stuff is planted all the way out here?

Keep in mind that deer are like people, and what deters one won’t always deter another, but trying several of these strategies can help. With a little careful planning, and a few tricks here and there, it may be possible for your garden to coexist peacefully with these beautiful creatures!

Above and Beyond: Best Annuals for High-Altitude Gardening

Mountain gardeners know that everything is a little bit different up high: light level, flower colors, rate of growth, and additional challenges with overwintering all make mountain gardening an adventure.

Selecting annuals that will tolerate cooler evening temperatures can help to extend that short gardening season and keep the color rolling all summer long. In order to choose wisely, it’s important to know which annuals are very-hardy, hardy, half-hardy, and tender.

You will also need to know your hardiness zone. Here at Echter’s, our lowest evening temps are between -20 and -10, which puts us in Zone 5. Evening temperatures from -30 to -20 are Zone 4, and if you are way, way up, you might be Zone 3 (-40 to -30).

Very-Hardy annuals are unfazed by early frosts and night temperatures of 25 degrees. These plants will continue to grow at the same rate in cool weather and they will flower on their normal schedule. These are the first annuals you will see out on the benches here at Echter’s.

Very-hardy annual plants include:
• Alyssum
• Pansies
• Snapdragons
• Dusty Miller
• Ornamental Cabbage/Kale

Hardy annuals can take night temperatures of 28 degrees, but may experience slower growth and flowering. In the big picture, that’s not a problem — just a delay. Waiting a week or two to plant this group will prevent freezing and let them get started.

Hardy annuals include…
• Bacopa
• Calendula
• Carnation
• Lobelia
• Nemesia
• Osteospermum

Half-Hardy annuals can tolerate cool temperatures and cool soil, but are damaged by frost. They require a longer period of growth, so they should be started indoors 4-8 weeks before the last frost date to give them extra time to mature before being planted outside.  They can tolerate periods of cold damp weather, but are frost tender and shouldn’t be transplanted until all danger of frost has passed.

Half-Hardy annuals include…..
• Angelonia
• Calibrachoa
• California Poppy
• Cosmos
• Datura
• Dichondra
• Gazania
• Gerbera
• Gomphrena
• Lotus Vine

Tender annuals are native to tropical regions, are very sensitive to cold soil temperatures, and are easily damaged by frost. In the Denver Metro area, tender annuals would be planted around Mother’s Day, but at higher elevations they should be planted after all danger of frost has passed in your particular zone. This may be well into June!

Annuals that are started indoors or purchased from greenhouses are considered tender and should be “hardened” or acclimated to outdoor growing conditions before transplanting them into the garden. To do this, place plants in a shady protected site, then gradually expose them to longer periods of direct sun.

Tender annuals include:
• Begonia
• Coleus,
• Impatiens
• Marigold
• Nasturtium
• Nicotiana
• Verbena

Having a beautiful garden in the mountains IS possible! With a little knowledge (know your zone!), planning, and careful plant selection, you can have the high-country garden of your dreams!