It's a dirty job, but gardeners do it

Preparing your garden soil


— In Routt County, gardening is a particular challenge.

We have just 59 days of frost-free growing time on average. We receive average moisture accumulation of just 23 inches per year, one-third of which is typically rain.

It's windy. The sun is intense at our high altitude. We experience extreme temperature fluctuations. And, our soil tends to have less than ideal texture and nutrient content.

This can pose problems for some plants. Because we cannot do anything about our dry air, wind, sun intensity and extreme temperatures, one of the secrets to successful gardening in the Yampa Valley lies in the soil.

If you're serious about gardening, consider having your soil tested every couple of years to determine its texture and nutrient content. This helps you determine how to best amend your soil for optimal plant growth and which, if any, nutrients to include in fertilizer.

The ideal soil is composed of 25 percent air; 25 percent water; 45 percent mineral matter (sand, silt and clay); and 5 percent organic matter. The texture of Routt County soil varies from property to property: Some gardeners have very compact clay soil while others nearby have rocky or sandy soil. So in order to successfully grow plants here, we usually need to modify or amend the soil.

The soil should have a texture that allows for free movement of air, water and roots through the soil. If the soil is too compact, nutrients cannot get through to the roots, and the roots cannot penetrate the soil and grow.

If soil is not compact enough, the water and nutrients drain away too fast.

The problems of too loose or too compacted soil texture can be addressed by adding organic matter. Adding and thoroughly working in 3 cubic yards of tree bark, aged wood chips, aged sawdust or certain aged manures or composts to your soil per 1000 square foot area is recommended each year for annual gardens.

Organic matter should be considered as a mulch or soil conditioner, not fertilizer. A soil test will tell you which nutrients need to be included in any fertilizer you might need.

With properly prepared soil, your Yampa Valley garden will amaze and astound you with the variety of plants that can successfully flourish here!

Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County.

Call the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 with your questions or e-mail:


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