Here are answers to some of the most frequently-asked questions about gardening in Colorado:
Is it true that container plants can survive outside over the winter?
As we all know, in Colorado, containerized trees, shrubs, and almost all perennials are subject to extreme cold, drying winds, and frequent freeze-thaw cycles. Extra protection and care should be provided to ensure root to crown survival. Gardeners with large pots should choose a protected area in the landscape. Dig a hole and sink the entire plant pot into the ground. Making sure to water well and follow up with heavy mulch (six to twelve inches deep with straw, leaves or hay). Check the pots monthly throughout the winter and water when needed. If sinking pots is not possible, cluster containers together in a protected site under the house eaves on the north or east side. Place larger pots to the outside and smaller pots to the inside of the cluster. Water well, then heavily mulch. Add a thick layer of mulch or bales of straw around the outer edge of the grouping. Also, don’t forget to mulch over the top of the pots for protection from the temperature fluctuations. Check every two weeks and water when necessary.
What is clean compost? It is said to be a safe, chemical-free source of nutrients for gardens.
The U.S. Composting Council has a Seal of Testing Assurance (STA) program. Members in this program must test their products for pathogens, heavy metals, and pesticides on a regular basis. The best sources for pesticide-free compost are those that have been analyzed and certified. Home-made compost is also a great choice as long as you are careful not to add contaminated materials into your heap. Unregulated compost can contain pesticides, heavy metals, and other environmental toxins that may be harmful to you and your plants.
Another consideration, if you have your lawn sprayed with broadleaf herbicides, be sure to use a mulching mower and leave the clippings on the lawn. Do not compost them or bag them for clean green removal. Side Note: Soil testing for heavy metals is a must for any landscape where plants are grown for human consumption. Soil testing kits are available at the local County Extension Master Gardener Office.
Does the healthiest soil contain a high amount of organic matter?
If you are trying to achieve fertile soil to grow robust flowers, flavorful vegetables, strong trees and hearty bushes, the formula is no more than 5% organic matter by weight or 10% by volume. Before you add organic amendments to your garden, have your soil tested to determine its OM content and nutrient levels. When Colorado State University processes the soil test (minimal fee) they will also offer suggestions on how to correct any deficiencies. Remember high levels of nutrients can have negative effects on plant and soil health.
Are bark or sawdust the best mulch to use?
No. Bark mulch can be contaminated with salt and/or weed seeds. Bark naturally contains waxes that prevent absorption and release of water in landscapes. Sawdust is too fine and will prevent the natural flow of water and gas movement as it compacts.
Does praying an extra Our Father while planting guarantee good blooming?
Prayer is one of the most important things we, as Christians, can do. It is a time for communicating with God and it should be taken very seriously. While there is deep theological meaning in prayer, it doesn’t have to be something that is complicated and difficult. Therefore, it is highly recommended to say an extra prayer during planting! This season most of us will have food on our plate that has been grown from the ground. Bless us, Oh Lord and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from your bounty through Christ, Our Lord. Amen!
(Kerry Peetz is a master gardener and a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Colorado Springs.)