BOULDER COUNTY – Just when our excitement for spring reached fever pitch, Mother Nature decided to amuse herself by playing cat-and-mouse with warmth. First, she turned on the faucet, then turned off the heat. But only on the weekends, when a lot of gardeners wanted to get outside. During the week, she tossed sunny days and clear skies at us, just to watch us press our noses to the windows of offices and meeting rooms in longing for outside.
Declarations were made to get those plants in the ground, come heck or high water, and gardeners double downed by breaking out umbrellas, wellington boots and raincoats. Nature upped the ante with hail and sleet. We battled back with walls-O-water, cloches, plastic tunnels and cold frames; she simply said “Human, please, I’ve got tornadoes,” and threw them at us.
“When do we get to start gardening? When? When?” said Amy Lippold, her wail of frustration summing up every gardener’s feelings. Staring at another grey, wet day, I had no answer.
People do this all the time in other locales. True, they fight more plant diseases and have slugs the size of Buicks, but, being hardy folk, they overcome the obstacles. Colorado gardeners just need to toughen up and learn to deal with a little damp.
This means getting your sprinkler systems ready for when the rain stops falling. Take time to turn the system on and walk around each head as it runs to ensure that it’s level and watering flows unimpeded from the nozzle. Since it’s raining all the time now anyway, getting a little wetter from inspecting your irrigation shouldn’t faze you.
Once you’ve given your system a checkup, turn it off until the rain stops falling. You don’t need to run sprinklers during rain storms. We’ll go from cold to hot in a menopausal minute once the weather returns to normal, so check the forecast daily to gauge when the time is right to turn the system on for the summer.
If your plants look gnawed, put out slug traps, tenting them with a raised cap to keep them from overflowing with rainwater. Slug traps are small, margarine-sized plastic containers that you pour beer into to attract the mollusks. They crawl in and drown. Any beer will do so there’s no need to go with expensive stuff.
Delay planting warm season crops until the soil warms a little more. Most temperature readings of the soil are registering right around 60 degrees which is the minimum temperature for germination of beans, cucumbers, squash or pumpkins. And if the soil is soaked and cold, chances are higher that they’ll rot before they sprout. Wait a bit to let soil temperatures raise more.
Tomato, eggplant, peppers, and tomatillos should be given protection from the chill nights if you plant them outdoors. They’ll sit and sulk in the cold soil too, so warm the soil with black plastic placed over it or Walls-O-Water set in place for at least seven days before you plant. Memorial Day weekend is a good target for planting them out.
Check container plantings to ensure that they are draining instead of holding water. Saturated soil is a deadly situation for roots to stay in but a lot of decorative containers don’t have adequate drain holes.
Weeds are running amok with this water so leave time to patrol your beds for new sprouts. Take a trowel or Hori-Hori, the Japanese digging tool, out with you as you patrol. Weeds are easier to pull when the ground is soft and a nudge upward with the tool makes keeping the beds tidy a snap.
Colorado State University Extension, together with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, provides unbiased, research-based information about consumer and family issues, horticulture, natural resources, agriculture and 4-H youth development. For more information contact Extension at the Boulder County Fairgrounds, 9595 Nelson Rd., Box B, Longmont, 303.678.6238, or visit