As stay-at-home procedures become the norm, gardening’s becoming a popular pastime. It’s easy to see why. Keeping a garden is fulfilling, gets folks some fresh air and, if done well, saves money on groceries.
But we’re moving through the peak of summer. Is gardening even possible this close to winter? We turned to Susan Pope, a local farmer and owner of Pope Farms Produce & Garden Center in Greeley, for some advice.
Northern Colorado sits in a fairly arid desert, where it gets frosty even during warm months. Pope begins candidly. “It takes more effort here than other areas of the country, due in part to struggles with our soil.” tBut while planting in these months is tricky, it’s far from impossible—even for novice gardeners.
In fact, certain plants thrive in tough conditions. The Department of Agriculture divides the States into 13 different Plant Hardiness Zones. These zones advise how tough a plant has to be to grow in that area, and most seed packets have hardiness information on the back. Most of the area lands in zones 5A and 5B, where the average minimum temperature is -20°F to -10°F. (Visit the USDA’s website to learn the hardiness zones across the nation.)
But while hardiness is important, it’s not quite as important as timing.
Colorado’s unique midsummer climate means early frosts are not unheard of. “Our frost date has moved back over the years,” Pope reflected. “We never know when to count on the frost or not.”
All these factors mean local gardeners have two options. Option one, pick hardy plants that don’t mind a little temperature fluctuation. Option two, pick plants that will, with luck, flower or root before the ground freezes.
And now we get to the good stuff. Exactly what plants meet these criteria? Pope didn’t hesitate: hardy vegetables.
Generally speaking, roots and greens like kale, carrots and peas “will withstand a frost,” but “tender greens like cucumbers or green beans won’t stand the cold nights.” These types of veggies also grow quickly, so you can expect to harvest at least once before real winter kicks in.
Annual flower seeds, or flowers that bloom once a year, do well during this season, too. But you’ll have to work fast and gamble that there won’t be a freak frost. Fall blooming flowers like mums, hibiscus, and asters, are your best bet. Pope encourages taking a chance with these because annual blooms don’t need yearly replanting.
August is also a great time for landscaping. Colorado’s beautiful, indigenous flora can handle zone 5B weather easily. Pope suggested columbine, sage, and yucca plants. But before encouraging anything to grow, a responsible gardener checks whether the plant is an invasive species.
But what should you avoid planting?
Most fruits, unfortunately, are a no-go. The unreliable temperature combined with the limited timeframe means it’s too late in the game for them. For instance, a cantaloupe takes 85 days to grow to picking size. Pope said flat out, “It’s too late, they won’t harvest … you just don’t have time anymore.”
Once you decide what to plant, Pope warns to watch out for local wildlife. “The biggest complaint I get from gardeners is that rabbits eat all their planting,” she laughs. Grasshoppers, too, start maturing and can lay waste to crops.
Aside from the animals, weeds and diseases like powdery mildew can rear their heads in late summer. Fortunately, there’s plenty of “household fixes” for these problems. Just regularly check on your plants, and if something seems amiss, tell your local nursery about the specifics.
So, is it too late to plant? Not at all! With the right research and a bit of luck, new gardeners can still test their green thumbs before winter hits.
Double-check your seed’s hardiness, mark your calendar, and start planting. And, if you’ve still got questions, Pope says Pope Farms Produce & Garden Center is happy to help.
For more information about Pope Farms, visit popefarmsproduce.com.
More reading about invasive species, Colorado gardening, and botanical know-how is available online on Planttalk Colorado, a Colorado State-sponsored web publication. Visit planttalk.colostate.edu.
By Emily Baudot, At Home Northern Colorado