Steamboat Springs Gardeners know. This is the time of year that our mailboxes sprout a bushel-basket full of seed, flower and plant catalogs. Those photographs of gorgeous flowering plants, trees, grasses, vegetables and groundcovers are designed to intrigue and entice us to begin planning our spring gardens now.
Unfortunately, here in Routt County, the danger of frost generally doesn't pass until mid-June. But, if we wait to place our order for the more popular or rare plants, the limited supply could be snapped up by gardeners from more temperate growing zones who can plant earlier in the season.
Some tips for starting seeds indoors: Use a good sterile potting soil or germination medium. Generally, garden soil is not an appropriate medium for starting seeds. Plant in plastic cell packs, peat pellets, peat pots, expanded foam cubes or even cottage cheese containers or bottoms of milk cartons or bleach containers that are sterile and have adequate drainage holes. Fill container to within 3/4 inch of the top with moistened, clean soil, spread evenly. Plant 200% of the amount of seed for each pot. You'll thin out the seedlings later. Cover with seed mix soil or loosely cover with wax paper to hold moisture in. Set in water or spray with a fine mist don't water from the top.
We can wait for the supplies to arrive at local garden centers and hope the varieties we want will be available.
Or, we can place a mail-order now, but request that the plants not be shipped here until at least mid-May. Or, we can order seeds and get a jump on the growing season by starting plants inside. There are other techniques to extend the growing season locally, too, including the use of water walls, greenhouses, heaters and coldframes.
Seedlings often give gardeners the best chance of success since they have several weeks growth already and can be immediately transplanted into your garden. Plus, most reputable garden stores and catalog houses guarantee their plants.
Our mountain community is considered Zone 3 to 4, although the Yampa River Botanic Park has been experimenting successfully with some hardy Zone 5 and even Zone 6 plants. Zones for plants are determined by the coldest temperature extremes in various geographic areas.
For instance, plants designated as suitable for Zone 4 can thrive in areas where the coldest temperatures reach minus 30 to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
If information is not readily available, look elsewhere or contact the Master Gardeners at the Routt County Cooperative Extension for more information.
Deb Babcock is a Routt County resident and a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County.
Questions and topic suggestions for this column may be submitted directly to the CSU Cooperative Extension office at 879-0825 or you may e-mail your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org