Starting a garden from scratch

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Kathy Hockin

Special to the Today

Preparation and forethought are critical for gardening success.

Ask yourself what exists in your yard that you can work with. Evaluate sun exposure, shade areas, wind, traffic patterns and uses. Remember to plan for access of equipment and future needs and uses. What kinds of grades exist or can be created for specific uses? What types of soil are in your yard?

I like to sketch out my plans on graph paper. If you keep a copy of your plans with plants you have planted, you will know what is there and how big the plants will get. This document can be a good reference when you want to plant more.

To remove weeds: Cover area with black plastic; it will help kill the weeds and warm the soil. I often apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of the oldest, most decomposed manure I can find, spread evenly, water and then apply black plastic as soon as the ground is bare. Hold the plastic in place with rocks, posts or whatever you can find.

Soils in Northwest Colorado generally are clay loam to clay soils. Some soils also have a high alkaline content. Old manure, decomposed sawdust, peat moss and some rocks work well to amend the soil. For annuals, 6 to 7 inches is adequate. Perennials prefer at least 12 inches, and trees and shrubs need at least 18 inches of good soil.

When choosing plants, spend time finding out where they came from, and mimic their original home. Some like rocks, some like sun, and others like shade or moist climates. Be sure to check the U.S. Department of Agriculture Zone (we're in Zone 4) and the American Horticultural Society Heat Zone (also Zone 4) when purchasing plants to make sure they can withstand Steamboat's extreme temperatures.

When planting trees and shrubs, dig your holes two to three times larger than the root structure and amend your soil well. You will find a distinct ring near the base of woody plants; this must not be covered with soil, or you'll harm the tree or shrub. Do not put mulch right up against the bark, trunk or stem of your plant; give it a few inches of breathing space.

I use mulch to save water, save time and weeding work, and I like the way it looks. I like wood chips or bark, but I use clean rock for some areas. I like to use soaker hoses under the mulch. Mulch saves on evaporation from the sun and wind, and it hides the hoses from sight.

Kathy Hockin is a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office in Routt County. Questions? Call 879-0825 or e-mail gardeners@co.routt.co.us.

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