Steamboat Springs For local garden-lovers, it's been a long and arduous spring.
While the last frost date - which usually falls on or about June 15 - is on schedule, a record-breaking snow year and unusually chilly spring have made some plants harder to obtain and have made getting a garden started more of a challenge.
"You have to protect the plants. We've been moving them in and out of the greenhouses every night," said Lisa Godbolt, a staff member at Windemere Landscape & Garden Center.
"It's been such a long winter, people are just dying to plant. And we have just been trying to advise people not to put things out too early," Godbolt said. "Considering we've had an extra-long winter, people are just extra-anxious to get color and flowers into their lives, versus just being buried in snow."
The ground and weather conditions should be safe by the end of this week to start planting summer vegetables such as squash, tomatoes and cucumbers, Godbolt said. Those with vegetable gardens will have to play it by ear, but Godbolt said it shouldn't be too late to plant softer vegetables by the time things start warming up. Sturdier crops such as lettuce, radishes, snow peas and carrots are safe to plant now.
For anyone who has jumped the gun and already planted delicate flowers or summer vegetables before the predicted final frost date, gardening expert Deb Babcock suggested covering plants at night to keep them safe.
"If they get something in early - which most of us tend to do because it's nice out and we have a short growing season - if it's cold out you can cover them with burlap or newspaper or cloth, and that keeps the heat in the ground," said Babcock, a Master Gardener through the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Office in Routt County.
To fend off frost, Babcock also recommends a do-it-yourself variation of the commercial Wall O' Water. Filling plastic milk jugs with water and placing them around the plant will warm the air around it and prevent the plant from freezing.
"Especially if you have something you may be paid a lot of money for and really don't want to let die, you can mimic that product. : When water freezes it actually gives off a lot of energy," Babcock said. "As they freeze they'll release some nice warm energy down in there."
Watering the ground around the plant before an anticipated frost has the same effect, Babcock said.
Gayle Noonan, park supervisor at the Yampa River Botanic Park, said she tries to keep staff busy with more physical work on days that are too blustery to plant.
"When it's in the 30s, I don't really think that's gardening weather," Noonan said. The Botanic Park escaped frost in the past week by carefully selecting what to plant, covering what already was in the ground and keeping annuals on the shelf and out of the gardens until later this week.
"I think the biggest mistake people make when they want to cover something they want to protect, is they use plastic," Noonan said. "You don't want to use plastic because it kind of conducts the cold."
Noonan also suggests putting something taller around plants to drape cloth over, so snow doesn't weigh it down.
"You want the cover to be up above the plants and not just lying on them," she said.
With preliminary forecasts for today and Monday showing high temperatures in the 80s and lows well above freezing, it looks like gardeners might finally be in the clear. It shouldn't be long before the ground is safe for all plants and vegetables, Babcock said.
"It'll probably be another week, and I think we'll be in pretty good shape."