Colorado mountain gardening: Be prepared for spring storms (column)
May 10, 2017
It's not yet time to plant annual flowers and veggies in the High Country. The snowstorms that have hit Colorado this spring are a reminder of what could be in store for High Country gardeners later. For those who can't-wait and want to plant a few tomatoes before the last date of frost has passed, there's the risk that late — and heavy — spring snows and a hard frost will damage or kill the plants.
What's a gardener to do? Be prepared, do what you can — and know the rest is up to Mother Nature.
If you take a risk because the weather is warm and can't resist planting tomatoes and peppers early, then you might get them through a spring storm. The major damage from spring snowstorms is the breakage and crushing from the heavy snow load. Your job to protect is two-fold: protect from crushing snow loads and keep plants warm enough to avoid frost or freeze damage.
Household items such as 1 gallon or larger plant containers, empty buckets or sturdy cardboard boxes can be dropped over plants to protect them from being crushed by heavy snow. Once in place, the containers work to your advantage by collecting snow that acts as an insulator. Even at temps at or below 28 degrees — the benchmark for a hard freeze — plants can be protected.
Low-growing, emerging perennials won't need to be covered. The snow on its own will help insulate them from frost and freeze.
Trees in leaf
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Covering trees with a container obviously won't work, but protecting them from heavy snow still applies. Kevin Wood with the Colorado State Forest Service recommends gently shaking the branches periodically (using a broom handle) so snow falls off. The goal is to keep the entire accumulation from the storm from sitting on a branch at one time. Shake the lowest branches first so snow from above doesn't overload them as it falls. Work from the bottom up — and then shake lower branches again, if needed.
Fruit trees in Colorado are always at risk of losing their fruit from late spring storms. Sometimes, the snow may be an insulating factor but snow-laden branches can also break. Also, a windy storm can shake snow off. Protect branches from heavy snow load, then wait and see what happens is the prevailing advice.
If you have applied granular fertilizer to the lawn, then the moisture from the snow will activate it. The moisture will push nutrients into the soil where roots can absorb them. In a snowstorm, turf grass is the one worry-free plant.
Be prepared. Protect your plants. And take advantage of what might be the last snowstorm of the season to sit down and plot out this season's growing plan.
Becky Garber is a member of the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado of which Neils Lunceford, a landscaping company, is a member. You may contact them at 970-468-0340.
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