Deb Babcock's gardening column appears Mondays in Steamboat Today.
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Steamboat Springs Wow … will winter ever end here in Steamboat? For some reason, it has seemed endless this year. And many of us who enjoy gardening are itching to get out and start digging in the dirt.
So when should gardeners in the Steamboat area scratch that itch and begin preparing soil for spring planting?
The magic date is June 11. That’s when this area experiences the average date of the last killing frost. Of course, this is a 30-year average and will vary from year to year. Also, you might have protected areas near your home that allow for early planting.
Are there plants that can go into the ground before this date and survive a frost? What does a gardener do if a frost is forecast and you’ve just put some new plants in the garden?
If you have the itch really, really bad, consider planting cold-tolerant annuals, perennials and vegetables. Some of the most cold-tolerant annuals for our elevation include California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), Gladiolus, Calendula, Petunia, Marigold, Pansy and Zinnia.
Cold-tolerant vegetables include onions, lettuce, radish, spinach, peas, cabbage and turnips. These crops may be planted as early as two to four weeks before the date of our average last spring frost.
Perennials that are cold-tolerant include Yarrow (Achilles filipendula), Columbine (Aquilegia), Mountain bluet (Centaurea montana), Shasta daisy (Chrysanthemum maximum), Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus), Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), and Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), among many others.
Take care with any of these plants because most are grown (and coddled) in greenhouses and might have some fresh, green growth that is more susceptible to spring frost. Be sure to harden off these plants before setting them in the garden or provide some type of covering for them if the night temperatures are expected to drop near freezing.
Generally, trees and shrubs will not be seriously damaged by the late freezes. Just be sure the soil has dried enough to allow for easy root movement and that your digging doesn’t compact the soil. Any foliage might be affected by a freeze, but the tree or shrub usually will recover.
The Yampa Valley is considered USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 3 and 4, meaning our lowest temperatures can reach minus 20 to minus 40 degrees. However, you could have a microclimate in your garden that allows you to plant early or requires that you wait longer. The microclimate is affected by the contours of your property, your soil composition, winds, sun intensity, rainfall, shade and wind protectors. Match the needs of your plants to their growing site and you’ll have best success in your garden.
Because my garden is pretty exposed to the elements, my plan for scratching my gardening itch is to start some seeds and seedlings indoors in my shed, keeping them covered at night. I’ll bring them out to plant in the ground after June 11.
Deb Babcock is a master gardener through the Routt County Extension Office Call 970-879-0825 with questions.