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Now's the time to get your garden ready and start planting

May 12, 2018 Updated: May 12, 2018 at 8:07 am
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Green sprouts growing out from soil in the morning light

The rule of thumb when it comes to planting a garden in this part of the world is to wait until Mother's Day, which falls on May 13 this year.

Others swear by being slightly more cautious and waiting until after Memorial Day to escape any late killing frosts.

But many seasoned vegetable gardeners have planted hardy cool-season crops, and rightly so, said Mark Phelan, who co-owns Phelan Gardens garden center and nursery, 4955 Austin Bluffs Parkway, with his sister, Monica.

"You can plant now," he said. "There are two times when you plant: your cool season crops and your warm season crops. Right now are the cool season crops."

But first, do a bit of planning and maintenance. Make sure the spot you choose for your garden gets six to eight hours of direct sun. Prep the area by amending your soil and adding nutrients, such as composted manure.

It's a chore to clean up and ready your garden, but it's a necessary one to achieve good results.

First, clear garden beds of branches, leaves and other debris. This will reveal growing plants underneath and clear a path for new plantings. Now is also a good time to clean up trees and shrubs on your property, pruning and removing dead limbs.

Next, get your soil ready for planting either by using a machine such as a rototiller or a pitchfork or shovel and some old-fashioned elbow grease. Clear weeds.

Then add fresh or store-bought compost or manure. Do this a couple of weeks before planting so the compost mixes with the soil.

"Go ahead and amend the soil with some good nutrient amendment (manure), and do your fertilizer so it's already in the soil before you plant. Then rototill or hand dig the soil and get your garden ready," said Kristen Burnside, an owner-manager at Harding Nursery, 721 N. Powers Blvd.

Now you can plan where to plant vegetables and flowers.

Phelan Gardens worker Andrew Cronk takes down a Persian Gherkin Cucumber plant growing in a hanging planter on Wednesday, May 10, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Next, dig or till the soil to a depth of about 6 inches, or consider using a raised garden bed.

"If the soil needs nutrients and needs to be improved, then yes, that would be the time to do that," Phelan said. "I think it's important to note that with the nightshade family (eggplant, potatoes, peppers and tomatoes), it's good to rotate those throughout the garden. If you planted tomatoes last year, do a different spot this year and the next two years, because of disease and insects."

Cool-season vegetables that can be in the ground now include spinach, lettuces, carrots, peas, potatoes, onions, Kohlrabi, leeks and cabbage. Many cool season vegetables will mature in 25 to 60 days, such as lettuce, spinach and radishes, according to the Colorado State University Extension.

"Plants right now would be best - not from seed," Phelan said.

Also, it's a good time to plant perennials, which come back year after year.

At Phelan Gardens are salads growing in pot. Included in the pot are Red and Green Oak leaf, Green and Red Romaine, Lolla Rossa, and Bib Lettuce. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Warm season crops such as cucumber, eggplant and melon are planted a bit later, as they require consistent nighttime temperatures of 50 degrees or higher. The growing season for Colorado Springs is relatively short, so choose plant varieties with a short maturity date.

"Basically all the perennial plants can be planted right now," he said. "You can cover them if there's a frost. May 15 is the average last killing frost. But cold-hardy veggies and perennials can be planted before that."

Many perennials sold at Phelan Gardens are "very drought tolerant. And the other half require less water than your bluegrass lawn," Phelan said.

Annuals, or one-season plants, can be planted after May 15, he said. These include petunias and marigolds (a good frost indicator, as it turns black at 30 degrees).

Because of our arid climate, consider how you'll water your garden before you plant it. Perhaps a garden hose or watering can are enough, or you may want to install some automatic watering systems.

The higher your property, the later the frost. Be sure to consider your elevation when planting.

"We live in a city that varies greatly in elevation, so people in higher elevations near Monument, Black Forest and Peyton might be seven days behind us (in Colorado Springs). They might wait seven additional days for frost," Phelan said.

Maintain your soil throughout the season with watering and weeding. Then enjoy the fruits (or vegetables and flowers) of your labors until early October, when the first killing frost is expected.

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