Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Rocky Mountains
March, 2004
Regional Report

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Get a head start on the gardening season this year by planting seeds indoors.

Early Season Garden Tips for Rocky Mountain Climates

Rocky Mountain gardeners are optimists at heart. After we discover that our growing season is too short for many crops, we soon learn to be realists, too. Be adventurous and find ways to coax early crops even from cool soil conditions. For those of you who are determined to grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs in the higher mountain communities, here are just a few suggestions to outwit a challenging climate:

Warming the Soil
Warm up the soil around plantings by mulching with black plastic, tar paper, dark carpeting, or placing old tires directly around individual plants. Lightly cultivating around plants will help to warm the soil too.
Make early plantings in that part of your garden facing south or southwest. The soil should be prepared in advance with compost to help capture radiant heat from the bright sunlight. Heat that's reflected from buildings and rock walls will help to moderate temperature.

Use Frost Protectors
Protect plants from frost with waxed hot kaps, floating row covers, bottomless plastic gallon milk jugs, or tunnels made from sheet plastic that is stretched over wire or bent willow stems.

Give Seedlings a Head Start Indoors
Sow warm-season plants inside because they need warmth for good germination. Once germinated, plants can be acclimated to cooler growing conditions.

Select Appropriate Varieties
Choose varieties that will grow and thrive in a shorter growing season. Some early-season tomatoes include Scotia (60 days, determinate, cold tolerant, sets fruit at 38 degrees, small bushy plant), Stupice (52 days, indeterminate, extremely cold tolerant, bears abundantly), Early Girl VFF Hybrid (52 days, indeterminate, more disease resistance than original Early Girl, flavorful, solid 4- to 6-oz. fruit), Oregon Spring V (58 days, cold tolerant for short-season gardeners, full tomato flavor), Bush Beefsteak (62 days, rich red, solid fruit that average 8 oz.), Early Wonder (55 days, compact vines, fruit averaging 6 oz.), Prairie Fire (55 days, intensely red, 3- to 5-oz. fruit on short, bushy plants), and Silver Fir Tree (58 days, medium-size fruit), which has delicate, lacy leaves that add ornamental interest.

Uncertain weather in the Rockies often makes gardening tricky, with bright sunshine for a week or more, followed by cold, frosty conditions that can be devastating to plants that are not acclimatized. But what the heck, it's fun to get an early start, and with some planning you can get a longer growing season than you might expect.

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